Nottingham: Ian Bell (95*) and Stuart Broad (47*) had put together a splendid century stand and taken England to 326/6 at stump on Day 3. The hosts led by 261 runs.
Australia claimed the wickets of Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior in a tense afternoon session but Bell held firm to give England hope of setting a difficult target for the touring side to chase in the fourth innings.
Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, resuming on 80 for two, started with the same cautious approach they adopted on Thursday when they steadied the ship for England after the loss of two early wickets.
Pietersen drove Mitchell Starc to the cover boundary to reach his fifty, one of his 12 fours, and moved confidently to 64.
But he was distracted by a spectator moving in the pavilion and dragged the next ball from James Pattinson on to his stumps trying to force it through the off side, ending a third-wicket partnership of 110.
Cook's four-hour vigil was over shortly after he reached his fifty, the captain edging a top-spinner from left-armer Ashton Agar to slip where Australia captain Michael Clarke held a fine one-handed catch high to his left.
It was a first Test wicket for Agar who played an extraordinary innings of 98 batting at number 11 to turn the match Australia's way on Thursday.
The Australians were cock-a-hoop and the crowd fell quiet, although Bell struck one textbook drive to the cover boundary to briefly raise spirits.
Pattinson and Mitchell Starc obtained significant reverse swing and troubled Bell and Bairstow but the pair survived a few uncomfortable moments to take England to lunch on 157 for four.
Bairstow had fought hard for 62 deliveries to make 15 when he edged Agar through to Haddin and Prior joined Bell.
Australia took the second new ball and the England wicketkeeper went on the attack, punching Pattinson through cover for four to bring up the 200 and carving Siddle over backward point.
Prior struck six crisp fours on his way to 31 off 42 balls but he perished trying to hit another, pulling Peter Siddle to mid-wicket where Ed Cowan leapt to take a sharp catch above his head.
Bell brought up his fifty with a two off Pattinson, reaching 6,000 Test runs in the process, and he clipped Starc for his eighth four just before the interval to a loud cheer from a generally subdued crowd.
England 215 (Siddle 5-50) & 326 for 6 (Bell 95*, Pietersen 64, Cook 50)
Australia 280 (Agar 98, Hughes 81*, Anderson 5-85)
Status England lead by 261 runs