An unbeaten century by Simon Katich took Lancashire to within seven runs of Essex's first-innings total as the visitors ended the second day of their County Championship match on 266-7 at Chelmsford.
Katich finished on 120 not out after batting for more than four-and-a-half hours and 185 deliveries, of which 14 were dispatched along the floor to the boundary.
The Australian found a dependable ally in South African Ashwell Prince. The experienced pair, who have 122 Test caps, took a grip on proceedings immediately after lunch, both pulling and driving freely with positive strokeplay and running between the wickets.
The Essex attack toiled away with little encouragement as bat dominated ball until Prince, on 49, offered sharp catch to Tom Westley at second slip off the bowling of David Masters, but the chance was spilled.
He then survived a concerted lbw appeal from the next delivery, but the bowler soon gained reward.
Prince had completed a 104-ball half-century with six fours when he went on the drive and edged a catch to James Foster to leave the visitors 151-3 and end a partnership of 110 in 33 overs.
His downfall revived the Essex spirits as the Lancashire innings crumbled either side of tea as they lost five wickets for 57 runs inside 20 overs against the pace of Graham Napier and left-armer Reece Topley.
Andrea Agathangelou lost his middle stump as he pushed forward facing a Napier delivery and, in the bowler's next over, Steven Croft edged behind without score.
Topley raced in to remove Gareth Cross and Wayne White, who were both caught by former Lancashire player Saj Mahmood, victims of mistimed pulls to leave the visitors 208-7.
Katich, though, continued his accomplished innings and found useful late support from Kyle Hogg, with whom 58 runs were added before bad light brought an end to proceedings for the day with six overs lost.
Earlier, 22 year-old Championship debutant Luis Reece made a pleasing start, reaching the boundary on the second ball faced and, by the time he was caught at second slip off Napier for 24, he had reached the ropes on a further four occasions.