A contentious DRS call and the dismissals of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen threatened to derail the England innings on Saturday before a vital rearguard stand prevented another capitulation to the Australian attack on a stifling day in the Ashes.
Ian Bell (9) and Ben Stokes (14) survived the last hour on day two to lift the total to 180-4 after England lost skipper Cook (72) and Pietersen (19) quickly to slide from 136-2 to 146-4, and the Australian pacemen sensed another a volley of wickets after some sustained, disciplined bowling in the third test.
England started positively Saturday by taking four wickets for 59 to restrict Australia's first innings to 385.
After eight wickets fell for 239 on a day when temperatures topped 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), the series is delicately poised with three days remaining.
Australia is aiming to reclaim the Ashes with a third straight victory, and England needs at least a draw to prolong its defense.
England had only reached 180 runs in one innings before Perth - when it was bowled out for 312 after being set 531 to win the second test in Adelaide.
If ever Bell and the England lower order need big contributions, it's on Sunday. Opener Michael Carberry (43), who combined for 85 runs with Cook in the best opening stand of the series, thinks England can still save the match and the series.
"It was a good scrap through the day," he said. "We're still in the hunt. We're 200 behind so we have to get through the new ball tomorrow and get up near the Australian," score in the first innings.
Cook appeared set for a century in his 100th test but the nagging line and length of the pacemen prompted him to lash out at the introduction of spin and he cut Nathan Lyon to David Warner at point.
Pietersen lost patience after an uncharacteristically cautious start, taking 15 balls to get off the mark and 44 before hitting his first boundary. After becoming just the fifth England batsman to pass 8,000 career test runs, he impulsively flat-batted a short ball from Peter Siddle to mid-on and Mitchell Johnson took a stunning, leaping catch.
It was the 10th time Siddle has taken Pietersen's wicket in test cricket, something Australia's bowling coach Craig McDermott attributed to sustained pressure and the England batsman's instinct to "release the valve."
"I just thought it was fantastic piece of athleticism really, great catch and a really important wicket for us," McDermott said. "The two wickets in that last session were very crucial."
England started with intent, with the openers scoring boundaries and getting some early reprieves before Ryan Harris bowled Carberry. England added five to the total before Joe Root (4) was given out caught behind off Shane Watson.
Root challenged the call but the TV umpire's review - based on a slight movement on the snicko technology - didn't show conclusive evidence to overturn umpire Marais Erasmus' original decision and the dismissal stood, provoking raucous boos from the England supporters.
It was just one more controversial outcome from a system that was widely criticised during the last Ashes series in England.
"It was obviously a disappointing dismissal for us, and a key dismissal for us... we're bitterly disappointed," Carberry said, but "we don't control that. It's one of those things we have to swallow I'm afraid."
The Australians also had a failed DRS review on Saturday when Steve Smith feathered the faintest of inside edges off Jimmy Anderson and was caught behind for 111, adding only eight to his overnight total.
Stuart Broad had struck earlier to remove Johnson (39) caught behind without any addition to the overnight of 326-6. Anderson dismissed Smith and Harris (12) quickly before the last-wicket pair of Siddle (21) and Lyon (17 not out) added 31 for Australia.
Cracks started opening up in the baking conditions at Perth, and the ball started to move off the seam making the surface more awkward.
"The cracks are going to get bigger there's no doubt about that," McDermott said. "There's a couple in line with the stumps which will play havoc on batsmen's minds. It may be better that we're bowling last."
Australia has batted first and scored big wins in the first two tests leading up to this match at the Waca, where England hasn't won since 1978.