All-rounder Graham Napier impressed with bat and ball on the opening day of Essex's County Championship match against Northamptonshire to keep his side in the picture.
Essex were bowled out for just 183 with Napier's 73 not out off 65 balls, including five sixes, the only resistance with Steven Crook taking 4-39.
Napier then took 3-30 as the visitors clawed their way back into contention by reducing Northants to 156-5 at the close with their captain Stephen Peters top-scoring with 60 off 92 deliveries.
Essex's Rob Quiney was the first to fall as he was trapped lbw for 25. Five overs later, Ben Foakes (four) departed when he edged Steven Crook to Northants wicketkeeper David Murphy and Trent Copeland then removed Tom Westley for 30.
Two wickets in four balls fell in the final over before lunch when Mark Pettini (four) was taken by Copeland at third slip off Crook before the same man bowled Essex captain and wicketkeeper James Foster.
Bad to worse
It went from bad to worse for them in the second over of the afternoon when England's Ravi Bopara (six) tentatively nudged to Murphy to give Crook his fourth wicket. David Willey then got in on the act when Greg Smith walked on 15 after edging to Murphy.
Maurice Chambers made just a single, Reece Topley was bowled by Andrew Hall for a five-ball duck before Essex's innings came to an end when Tymal Mills (six) scooped Willey to Rob Newton at gully.
Napier struck in the eighth over of Northants' reply when Kyle Coetzer wafted his delivery to Westley at second slip to depart for 12.
Four balls later, David Sales (four) chipped Napier to Chambers at midwicket with Alex Wakely (11) following him by tamely picking out Bopara at square leg off Chambers.
Peters did his all to stabilise his side's innings by going past 50 off 76 deliveries but he perished when Pettini took a good low catch at slip off Topley. Hall (13) then became the 15th wicket to fall on a frenetic day's play when he edged Napier to Pettini at first slip.