England battled to 50 for two after New Zealand eventually posted 443 in their first innings with paceman Steven Finn taking six wickets on day two of the third Test in Auckland.
Peter Fulton ended with 136 to his name as the Black Caps were bowled out in the final session of the second day at Eden Park, and England lost both Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott before the close of play.
The pitch remained disappointingly placid at the rugby ground but, having taken two quick wickets in a tense final period in the evening session, New Zealand remain better placed if either side are able to chase a result in the deciding Test of the three-match series, which remains level after stalemates in Dunedin and Wellington.
England produced a superb comeback with the ball after a disastrous day one as Finn finished with figures of six for 125 - which equalled his career-best effort against Australia at the Gabba in 2010 - while Matt Prior took five catches in a distinguished display behind the stumps as the hosts lost their last nine wickets for just 183 runs.
New Zealand, resuming on 250 for one overnight, had been expected to kick on and thrive with such a solid platform having already been established, but it was a stuttering, sluggish first few hours from the hosts. Indeed Peter Fulton, who had 124 to his name after day one, was particularly passive as he sought to simply occupy the crease, much to the frustration of the local supporters, as the huge opener took 100 balls to add 28 runs, including 23 spent waiting to get off the mark in the morning.
The tourists were able to seize the initiative due to the Kiwis’ strangely subdued approach, and the breakthrough finally arrived as the pair’s epic 181-run partnership was broken as James Anderson, who suffered an injury scare earlier in the day as he had his left ankle treated on the field, had Williamson caught behind for 91 with an exquisite outswinger.
Ross Taylor, who had his pads on for most of day one, attempted one shot too many in a frenetic innings coming in at number four as he ended up chipping a drive straight back at Monty Panesar, who was clearly as surprised as anyone as he took a fine return catch, with the former captain departing for 19.
Suddenly the wickets were arriving and the bowlers were beginning to find better areas on the placid drop-in wicket, and Fulton’s seven-and-a-half-hour innings came to an end for 136 as he edged a delivery from Finn behind to Prior, who took a snorter of a catch diving low at full stretch to his left.
If Fulton’s dismissal was notable for Prior’s incredible snaffle, captain Brendon McCullum’s was for the identity of the bowler: Trott. The part-time medium-pacer picked up only his fourth Test wicket as the Kiwi skipper edged behind to Prior attempting a lavish drive after having earlier successfully overturned umpire Paul Reiffel’s decision to give him out lbw off Finn.
Dean Brownlie looked positive as he struck four blistering boundaries early on, but he was dismissed for 36 as Compton took a smart catch at backward point to give Anderson his second wicket.
Tim Southee plundered a flurry of boundaries in a breezy innings of 44 as he accompanied Brownlie before kicking on and taking the upper hand himself, but Finn was then able to haul England back into the contest with a string of quick wickets.
The lanky paceman mopped up the tail with the final four wickets – the last two falling in successive balls – with the utmost efficiency as Southee, Bruce Martin, BJ Watling and Trent Boult all fell in a frenetic five overs as the hosts swiftly imploded.
England’s batsmen had 25 overs to negotiate in the final session, and captain Cook was only able to last two as he tickled an innocuous leg-side delivery from Boult behind to Watling after having scored just four with an edge wide of slip.
The ebullient Boult struck for a second time with less than 10 overs left in the day after Trott was caught on the crease in front of middle stump, and umpire Reiffel’s decision to give him out lbw was upheld after an ill-advised review.
It was subsequently left to Nick Compton (12) and Ian Bell (six) to guide the tourists through to the close of play unscathed thereafter, with the morning session on day three likely to be crucial with the inexperienced Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to come in next for England, who are still not out of the contest themselves.