Mark Stoneman fell four short of his fourth century of the season on the opening day of Durham's County Championship match against third-placed Sussex at Chester-le-Street.
Needing six points to overhaul Yorkshire at the top, Durham managed only one batting point when they were all out for 245, but in 22 overs they also earned a bowling point as Sussex slipped to 60-3.
The third wicket went to Mitch Claydon with his second ball following his recall from a three-month loan spell at Kent, who announced that they have signed him for next season.
Durham need him because they have three seamers injured, plus Ben Stokes on England one-day duty, but Sussex are equally depleted and handed a debut to 18-year-old all-rounder Harry Finch.
They also brought in left-armer Lewis Hatchett for only his third appearance of the season and he knocked the middle out of Durham's innings with a spell of 3-5 in 20 balls.
It started when Stoneman got an inside edge into his leg stump, then Paul Collingwood was pinned on the crease and fell lbw for one before Phil Mustard edged a beauty to second slip.
It was well held by Finch to atone for dropping Stoneman on 44 off the luckless Steve Magoffin, who bowled with great accuracy and moved the ball both ways.
He had Scott Borthwick caught behind off an edged drive, but deserved more wickets in an opening spell of 10-5-17-1.
He also regularly beat the bat in his second spell before earning late reward when he had Usman Arshad lbw for 30 and bowled Chris Rushworth for a duck to finish with 3-57.
James Anyon also swung the ball and his 4-87 included two lbw verdicts, the second of which ended a seventh-wicket stand of 54 between Michael Richardson and Arshad, who was making only his second first-class appearance.
Stoneman scored his first 41 runs at a run-a-ball before throttling back to reach his ninth 50 of the season off 69 deliveries, twice hitting three boundaries in an over, first off Anyon then Hatchett. In total he hit 16 fours in his 129-ball innings.
Sussex reached 28 before Graham Onions struck twice in the ninth over on his return from a broken finger.
Chris Nash, who went very close to playing on first ball, edged a drive to first slip and Sussex skipper Mike Yardy shuffle across and fell lbw for a third-ball duck.
Joe Gatting lost his off stump to Claydon, but Luke Wells survived a difficult chance to Phil Mustard off Chris Rushworth on nought to reach 13 and nightwatchman Anyon was on 10 at the close.