Jonathan Trott's century went unrewarded as Sri Lanka claimed a 75-run victory over England in the first Test in Galle.
The tourists resumed on the fourth morning at 111-2 in pursuit of a target of 340, more than they had ever successfully chased in a Test match before.
Trott turned his overnight 40 into an innings of 112 but lacked support as England lost regular wickets and were all out for 264 in the first over of the evening session.
Left-spinner Rangana Herath picked up 6-97 to finish with career-best figures of 12-171. All of England's second-innings wickets fell to slow bowlers, Suraj Randiv backing up Herath with 4-74.
England, the top-ranked side in the world, have now lost four straight Tests following their 3-0 loss to Pakistan in the UAE earlier this winter.
They must win the second Test, in Colombo from April 3-7, to earn a share of the two-match series.
England lost Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell on the way to lunch at 177-4.
Pietersen (30) failed to reach the pitch of a dipping delivery from Randiv and chipped to Mahela Jayawardene at midwicket in the third over of the day, ending a stand of 70 with Trott.
Bell (13), the only batsman to impress with a half-century in the first innings, was given out lbw sweeping, umpire Rod Tucker's decision upheld on review much to the right-hander's displeasure.
But a partnership of 81 between Trott and Matt Prior (41) either side of lunch kept England in contention on a ground where the highest run chase in 19 previous Tests stood at 95.
Trott advanced to his seventh Test hundred with a swept boundary off Herath, the 10th four of his 240-ball innings.
With the second new ball having been taken and Sri Lanka running short of ideas, Prior's firm sweep was held by Lahiru Thirimanne in his midriff at short-leg, reducing England to 233-5 and completing Herath's maiden 10-wicket haul.
And that proved a pivotal moment; Samit Patel (9), Trott and Graeme Swann (1) following in quick succession to leave England on the brink of defeat at tea on 259-8.
Patel drove too early at a ball from Herath and was caught at the second attempt by Tillakaratne Dilshan in the covers.
After five-and-a-half hours at the crease, Trott's resistance came to a tame end when he worked a turning Randiv delivery into the hands of Dilshan at leg slip.
Swann followed in the final over before the interval, lbw to Herath after missing with a sweep, and took England's final review with him on the way back to the pavilion.
The end came quickly when play resumed, James Anderson (5) and Monty Panesar (0) going to successive Randiv deliveries, completing a collapse of 6-31.