Australia powered into a healthy lead in the third Ashes Test after England's lower order staved off another embarrassing score.
Resuming the second day at the WACA on a perilous 51 for two, still trailing by 193 runs, England's best chance of remaining competitive in the series appeared to lie in them passing Australia's modest total of 244.
But despite a determined 40-run stand between Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar for the 10th wicket, England were still dismissed for 215 to hand Australia a 29-run lead.
That advantage was extended to an impressive 148 runs after the home side reached 119 for one by the close.
It was a disappointing finale for England to another enthralling day, with opener Matthew Hayden scoring his first half-century of the series and sharing in an unbroken 119-run stand with captain Ricky Ponting after England had appeared to regain the initiative.
England's hopes of claiming a lead was undermined with the 21st ball of the day with Paul Collingwood forcing Glenn McGrath to gully off the back foot.
The turning point of England's innings was perhaps seven overs later with the dismissal of opener Andrew Strauss, who had progressed impressively to 42 only to be given caught behind by umpire Rudi Koertzen off seamer Stuart Clark when television replays were inconclusive.
That exposed the middle order who once again failed to make much of an impression and this time became the unexpected victims of all-rounder Andrew Symonds.
Brought into the side to replace Damien Martyn following his shock retirement, Symonds struck twice in three overs with his medium pace to remove England captain Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones to plunge the tourists firmly into trouble.
Flintoff attempted to break the pressure built up by fast bowler Brett Lee by lunging at the first ball he faced from former Lancashire team-mate Symonds and edged low to Shane Warne at slip.
Jones fell in similar fashion, only he drove low to gully to suffer the first duck of his Test career and extend a disappointing run of only two half-centuries in his last 26 Test innings.
Symonds' spell of two for eight in four overs left Pietersen exposed with the tail, and although Sajid Mahmood and Matthew Hoggard resisted, the Hampshire strokemaker was unable to play with his natural attacking style.
It was not until he was joined by Harmison that Pietersen began to attack, hitting 15 off one over from Warne, although he was dropped over the rope for one of eight fours by McGrath on 53.
He responded to that reprieve by also driving Warne over extra cover for six, but his adrenaline-charged assault proved his downfall when he attempted to pull Lee but instead found Symonds' safe hands at long off.
When Pietersen fell, Australia had a healthy lead of 69 but discovered unexpected resistance from England's last pair who remained defiant for 40 minutes.
Clark eventually halted the innings with Harmison mis-timed an attempted drive and was caught in the deep for 23 to leave Panesar unbeaten on a useful 16.
Boosted by that stand - England's biggest partnership of their innings - Hoggard lifted spirits further by swinging the first ball of Australia's reply through the gate and into Justin Langer's stumps.
But Ponting and Hayden teamed up successfully to regain the momentum in the final session of the day and edge Australia towards a match-winning lead.