Australia moved within 201 runs of victory in the fourth Ashes test with all 10 wickets in hand after routing England's second innings for 179 to wrest back the momentum on a roller-coaster fourth day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday.
Australia offspinner Nathan Lyon took 5-50 as England lost their last five wickets after tea for the addition of only six runs, their batsmen squandering the advantage their bowlers had fought hard for in the morning.
Chris Rogers was on 18 with fellow opener David Warner on 12 as Australia reached 30 for no loss at the close of a blustery day's play in front of a crowd of more than 63,000.
Though a fourth consecutive test victory would seem Australia's for the taking, no team has ever chased down more than South Africa's 183 in 2008 since the first use of drop-in wickets at the MCG in 1996.
But England's demoralising batting performance and their failure to breach Australia's openers in the last hour suggest they face an uphill task to prevent the hosts from taking a 4-0 lead in the five-test series.
England had bowled Australia out for 204 in the first hour of the day to take a slender 51-run lead, and pushed it out to 105 at lunch without loss.
From there, the wheels fell off spectacularly, with two separate collapses before and after tea seeing England lose a total of eight wickets for the addition of only seven runs.
England captain Alastair Cook managed his third half-century and became the youngest cricketer at 29 to reach 8,000 test runs, but his wicket for 51 was duly followed by the loss of three more for one run in the session.
England still held a lead of 182 after tea with six wickets in hand, but Lyon combined with paceman Mitchell Johnson to mow through the tail.
Lyon struck to remove Ben Stokes to end a 44-run partnership with Kevin Pietersen, the spinner coaxing the all-rounder into a clumsy slog straight to Steven Smith at mid-on.
Jonny Bairstow, who replaced seasoned wicketkeeper Matt Prior, added a quick-fire 21 before being well caught by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin with a flat-footed drive off a wider delivery from Johnson, the bowler's 30th wicket of the series.
Lyon struck again the second ball after drinks to bowl Tim Bresnan for a duck, and three balls later had Stuart Broad out for zero caught by Australia captain Michael Clarke in the slips.
Pietersen was out for 49 slogging Lyon to long-off before Johnson wrapped up the innings by trapping Monty Panesar in front for another duck.
Johnson had earlier continued his fairytale series by swooping in at mid-off to throw the stumps and run out Joe Root for 15.
Two balls later, Ian Bell was out for a first-ball duck, inexplicably spooning an innocuous Lyon delivery straight to a disbelieving Johnson at mid-off, sparking thunderous roars at the stadium.
Earlier, Australia's final wicket partnership between Haddin and Lyon had yielded a valuable 40 runs before paceman James Anderson struck to remove the wicketkeeper for 65.
The 36-year-old Haddin became the first batsman at seventh or lower in the order to post four first innings half-centuries in a series, and also surpassed Englishman Alec Stewart's 378 runs on home soil in 1993 to become the highest-scoring wicketkeeper in an Ashes series.
Enjoying some of the best form of his career, Haddin cracked seven fours and a six before flailing at a short ball that soared high in the air, allowing fellow wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to take a simple catch square of the wicket.
Lyon was 18 not out after slogging three boundaries and providing commendable support.
Anderson finished the pick of England's bowlers with 4-67, with fellow seamer Broad taking 3-45.
Australia hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-test series. The final match starts in Sydney on January 3.