Hampshire suffered as Simon Harmer snared his fourth Specsavers County Championship five-wicket haul of the season to help Essex take charge on day one.
The visitors were bowled out for just 118 in tricky conditions, writes Alex Smith.
Harmer, who has now taken 24 scalps at Chelmsford alone this season, finished with figures of five for 23 to elevate him back to the joint-top of the division one wicket-taking charts – which he shares with Lewis Gregory and Jeetan Patel, who all have 35 wickets.
Harmer’s bowling exploits were followed-up by Ravi Bopara’s 50 as Essex galloped into a lead of 29 runs, albeit for the loss of Sir Alastair Cook, Nick Browne and Tom Westley.
Going into the game, Hampshire sat in second place with the second highest acquisition of batting bonus points.
With that confidence and a healthy-looking pitch, stand-in captain Sam Northeast elected to bat having won the toss, although would have regretted the decision having been bowled out by tea.
Harmer may well have landed the most telling blows to the Hampshire collapse, but it was the opening seam attack of Sam Cook and Jamie Porter who landed the first hits.
After a 40-minute delay to the start of play due to rain, Porter only needed until the third over to pin Joe Weatherley lbw.
Two balls later Porter found the outside edge of Ajinkya Rahane’s bat, as the India Test star handed Adam Wheater a catch on his return – the wicketkeeper had missed the last 10 weeks due to a thumb injured, which he damaged in the reverse fixture at the Ageas Bowl.
Essex brought up their first bowling point in just the sixth over when Sam Cook joined the party, as Tom Alsop offered up a catch to Dan Lawrence at gully.
Following another half an hour rain break, Northeast and the uber-aggressive Rilee Rossouw offered a glint of hope for the visitors with a 45-run stand but both faltered once Harmer entered the attack in the 14th over.
Bowling from his deadly River End, Harmer needed nine balls before his golden arm had Northeast hit on the pads while walking in front of his stumps.
South African Rossouw topped scored with 34 from 32 balls but his dismissal, stumped after wildly stamping down the track and swinging, left his side exposed as the final five Hampshire wickets fell for 24 runs in nine and a half overs.
Aneurin Donald saw his middle stump unearthed by a wicked Sam Cook in swinger, before James Fuller deflected Harmer to Ryan ten Doeschate at short leg.
Sam Cook completed his impressive three for 50 when Kyle Abbott was leg before.
Unsurprisingly it was Harmer’s off-spin which cleared out the tail as Keith Barker and Mason Crane, who had slapped a six over mid-wicket, were lbw – to send Hampshire to their lowest completed first innings score of the season.
Essex’s reply had started serenely, with 53 added for the first wicket. But Nick Browne was given a life on 11 when a firm strike breached Fuller’s upstretched hands at mid-wicket.
Fuller redeemed himself when he was brought onto bowl, as, with his fifth delivery, found the ball to straight up onto Sir Alastair Cook’s pads, before Nick Browne was leg before to Barker in the following over.
Tom Westley quickly departed when he was bowled by Barker, but Bopara, who scored his 50 of 73 balls, and Dan Lawrence guided the hosts to the close in a strong position with a half century partnership.