Hampshire coach Dale Benkenstein was relieved to see Adam Wheater crown his return to Essex with a great century.
Wheater’s excellent contribution rescued the visitors, on a day when his former club threatened to take complete control of the contest.
Benkenstein acknowledged it was a largely disappointing showing from the Hampshire batsmen – in keeping with their poor recent form.
But he also praised Wheater for his classy 107.
He said: ‘We finally won the toss but probably it would have been better if we hadn’t.
‘We’ve had some pretty indifferent batting over the past couple of weeks and that’s frustrating with the batting line-up we’ve got.
‘The conditions in that first session were quite nice for swing but we should have been able to get through that better.
‘But Wheats showed his class and it was a grand hundred.’
Wheater arrived at the crease with his side in dire straits at 30 for four and the visitors were still in disarray at 97 for seven when lunch arrived.
At that point Wheater was on 43.
But in the afternoon he found an ideal partner in Australian Nathan Rimmington, who was making his Championship debut.
Wheater claimed 64 of the 115 runs scored in an eighth wicket stand with Rimmington (65 not out).
Matt Coles then removed Nick Browne early on in the Essex reply.
But Tim Westley (35) and Ravi Bopara (24) guided them to 70 for one at the close, 176 runs behind.