The tourists still had realistic hope, if not necessarily expectation, of narrowing the margin more significantly from a start-of-play 180 for four.
But instead, they lost their remaining frontline batsmen long before the second new ball was available - and despite a modicum of defiance from Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, faltered tamely.
From 2-0 down already, with three to play, another defeat will mean not only is a fourth successive Ashes series victory unachievable but the urn will be lost outright here.
The tourists have hardly helped themselves, but little has fallen in their favour since their arrival down under eight weeks ago.
Continuing that theme, it seemed the definition of misfortune - with a viable match situation still not that far from reach - to lose a key batsman lbw via DRS at the WACA, this venue where almost every delivery can safely be assumed to be clearing the stumps.
On that basis presumably, and perhaps a suspicion of bat on ball, Marais Erasmus gave Ian Bell not out pushing forward to a Ryan Harris inswinger.
But Australia felt they could chance a review, under new regulations which reinstate their quota after 80 overs - and to general surprise, Hawkeye simulation depicted the ball clattering into the top of middle-stump.
At the other end, Mitchell Johnson then struck for the first time in more than 40 overs - counting back to the second Test.
Ben Stokes, perhaps spooked by a delivery two balls earlier which hit a crack and diverted at an impossible angle high past Matt Prior for a bye past the slips, wafted a drive at a wide one to be caught-behind.
Michael Clarke decided on a double-change with the old ball, and Peter Siddle (three for 36) duly came up with another wicket - Prior going for the pull but managing only an under-edge behind.
England had lost three for 27 - and with only the tail left, their chances of getting even within a hundred runs on first innings were fading fast.
Bresnan greeted the second new ball with the second and third of three cover-driven boundaries in the same Shane Watson over.
But Johnson made short work of Stuart Broad, forcing him back in the crease and then surprising him with a full delivery which pinned him lbw barely an inch or so in front of the stumps.
Bresnan was then ninth out to the admirable Harris (three for 48), caught-behind even as he tried to leave another testing delivery, and Swann was left unbeaten when James Anderson fended a catch to short-leg off Siddle.
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- Tim Bresnan
- Graeme Swann