A century from Graham Napier dragged Essex to 226 all out against Lancashire, who lost opener Paul Horton before stumps to end the opening day on 7-1.
In-form Napier finished on 102 not out - his fourth score of 50 or above in this year's LV= County Championship - as he led a lower-order fightback after the visitors had slumped to 77-5 at Emirates Old Trafford.
After winning the toss and opting to bat first in the Division Two fixture, Essex lost Tom Westley in 10th over when he was bowled by Kyle Hogg for just five.
England captain Alastair Cook (34) and Australian Rob Quiney, who made 21, battled hard through the morning session before the latter was dismissed by Luke Procter shortly before lunch.
The same bowler then sparked an Essex collapse at the start of the afternoon; Procter had Cook caught behind and then added the wickets of Mark Pettini, lbw for a duck, and Jaik Mickleburgh, caught by third slip Ashwell Prince for 10 when driving loosely.
Napier combined with skipper James Foster in a 54-run stand, though Lancashire missed chances in the field. Indeed, Napier was put down at first slip by Horton on nine and then saw Procter fail to hang on to a caught-and-bowled opportunity 23 runs later.
Wayne White ended the sixth-wicket partnership by removing Foster for 24, while Stephen Parry, playing his first Championship match since 2009, saw off Tim Phillips and also former team-mate Sajid Mahmood, who carted a short ball straight to Karl Brown at deep mid-wicket.
Napier had a further life on 93 before a six off Glen Chapple took him to three figures. It was the second time he had cleared the rope in his innings, while he also hit 10 fours.
Procter, who finished with 4-66 with the ball, managed to survive a tricky spell against the new ball before stumps but Horton wasn't so fortunate, edging Reece Topley through to wicketkeeper Foster.