England are on the verge of relinquishing the urn as Australia are just five wickets away from regaining the Ashes in Perth and taking a 3-0 lead before Christmas.
The tourists endured another difficult day with bat and ball and ended on 251-5 as Michael Clarke set them a victory target of 504 after Shane Watson joined David Warner in reaching three figures in the second innings.
However, resistance from Ben Stokes and Ian Bell have given England slight hope at the WACA tahnks to a stand of 99 while Stokes will start day five on 72* alongside Matt Prior who is on 7*.
After declaring on 369-6 England’s run chase couldn’t have got off to a worse start when captain Alastair Cook, on his 100th Test was bowled by a beauty from Ryan Harris and giving Cook his first golden duck of his Test career.
While Cook was watching on from the changing room his side did show some fight though, especially from Ian Bell and the hugely impressive Stokes who ended the day on 72 not out, guiding his country to 251-5 at the close of play.
The Australians added 134 to their overnight score which included Watson moving from 29* to 103 from just 108 balls before he was ran out by Tim Bresnan.
However, number six batsman George Bailey was on the attack and he smashed 28 runs off a single James Anderson over which led to Clarke calling his troops in, giving them over five sessions to bowl England out. That compounded another miserable day for Anderson who finished 0-105 off 19 overs.
Stokes and Bresnan ended with two wickets-a-piece while Graeme Swann’s only dismissal was Warner yesterday in yet another innings where England failed to bowl the Australians out.
After Cook fell with the opening delivery the tourists scrambled through to 24/1 at lunch with Michael Carberry and Joe Root fighting through the new ball. One wicket did bring two though and when the opener went for 31, Root joined him just 14 runs later to leave England 76-3.
Kevin Pietersen was already showing his aggression before Bell joined him at the crease and he played in a positive manner which brought the travelling Barmy Army some hope. However, he was out five runs short of his half century after taking on Nathan Lyon.
Pietersen had hit the spinner for six in his previous over but he tried again and with Harris back on the boundary edge he took a difficult catch to ensure Pietersen’s innings came to an end.
That brought Stokes to the crease with him and Bell taking the initiative away from their opponents by being aggressive while defending positively too. The 2013 Ashes Man of the Series had reached 60 when he was given out thanks to a successful review by Clarke.
Bell tried to upper cut Harris to the boundary, just like he had done so well in his innings up until then. This time, Bell got the faintest touch through to Brad Haddin and he was eventually given out which ended the partnership on 99.
Stokes seemed unperturbed with Bell’s departure and he carried on with his style which took him to 50 off 69 balls with vice-captain Prior watching on at the other end.
The wicket keeper survived for 14 balls until stumps and finished the day on 7* while Stokes, the shining light of this Ashes tour finished on 72, just 28 runs short of his first Test Match century, in only his second appearance.
England need 253 more runs to win at the WACA but with only five wickets left it seems highely unlikely England will escape Perth with the Ashes still intact. Stuart Broad has been attempting to bat in the nets and will take to the field if he has to due to an injured foot he picked up in the first innings.