England faltered to a tea-time 155 for four despite Alastair Cook's painstaking half-century on day one of the fourth Investec Test against Australia at Chester-le-Street.
Cook (51), was outscored by each of his partners - Jonathan Trott most notably - but took it upon himself to provide the solidity after choosing to bat first on a pitch many had predicted would help the seamers.
In the event it appeared simply slow - and with the outfield similarly inclined at the Emirates Durham ICG, England's progress was scratchy.
Cook was fourth out just before tea, lbw playing no shot to a Jackson Bird delivery which nipped back off the angle into him.
The England captain had previously appeared in no mood to take any chances, seeking not only to improve on his moderate series so far with the bat but also to convert his team's unassailable 2-0 lead into outright Ashes victory for a third successive time.
He needed 17 balls to get off the mark in a cagey morning session.
It was not until the final ball of the 12th over that England had their first boundary, courtesy of Joe Root's cover-drive off Bird, and then Cook pushed a second four through a vacant mid-off from the next ball - the first of Ryan Harris' second spell.
Michael Clarke used all-rounder Shane Watson twice before turning to frontline seamer Peter Siddle - and the ploy worked again when Root was caught-behind pushing forward.
Umpire Tony Hill did not detect an edge, but Hot Spot settled the issue for once after Australia called a review and had the initial decision overturned. When Siddle was summoned, he conceded 11 runs in his second over; yet still the lunchtime score was only 57 for one from 27.
Trott breezed past his captain in early afternoon and appeared set for a half-century from around 60 balls, only to fall one run short when he inside-edged off-spinner Nathan Lyon on to his pad to a diving short-leg.
Kevin Pietersen's pre-determination to attack Lyon bordered on the reckless when he went up the wicket first ball and mistimed his intended big hit for an unconvincing two over mid-wicket.
Pietersen's quest for domination almost cost Cook his wicket too, on 41, when he responded to a call for a single to cover from the last ball of a Watson over and would have been run out by yards had David Warner hit the stumps.
Cook's studious 50 was completed in appropriate fashion - with a controlled edge past second slip to third-man off Bird for his fifth boundary, to add to one all-run four, from the 153rd ball he faced.
England increasingly needed his durability, after Pietersen's fast-forward innings ended in the next over - outside-edging the returning Lyon behind as he lunged forward in defence.
When Cook then also departed, a second wicket for the addition of only four runs, England were looking vulnerable.