Owais Shah made the most of Hampshire’s inconsistency as Essex took control of the Championship clash on day two at the Ageas Bowl.
While the home side dominated day one, their control was soon frittered away with an insipid batting display in the morning session as they were bowled out for 229, despite resuming on 165 for four in reply to Essex’s 180.
Only Sean Ervine (43) showed any kind of application with a quickfire knock as wickets tumbled around him alarmingly.
James Vince (26) added just four runs to his overnight total, while Bilal Shafayat (42) failed to score as both perished to loose shots.
Ervine then decided attack was the best form of defence and he was the sole reason Hampshire gained a 49-run first innings lead.
But the final six wickets added just 64 runs, which simply is not good enough for a team with promotion hopes.
While some then predicted a finish inside two days on a lively pitch, former England man Shah cracked a fine unbeaten 124 as Essex closed on 217 for two in their second innings to put the visitors in command.
After David Balcombe had removed opener Tom Westley (15) to leave Essex at 19 for one, Shah and Jaik Mickleburgh (73) then made it look very easy against a toothless bowling attack in a 193-run stand.
Simon Katich grabbed a late wicket but Hampshire now need an inspired fightback.