Three late wickets on day four ensured England remain likely losers of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands.
Set a world record 466 to win, England began encouragingly with a century opening stand between Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook.
But both then went for the addition of just six runs - and after Kevin Pietersen followed too, the tourists stumbled to a vulnerable 132 for three by the close.
Even as thousands of travelling supporters were beginning to pinch themselves at the prospect of a famous rearguard action, or even last-day run chase, a series-levelling victory for the hosts was always easily the most obvious outcome.
After South Africa had declared on 447 for seven on the back of captain Graeme Smith's 183, it was unlikely his opposite number Strauss' team talk in the innings break was especially taxing.
England's cage was handily rattled by yesterday's transitory inference of ball-tampering which can have done little for player relations in this heavyweight tussle.
South Africa publicly voiced concerns about James Anderson and Stuart Broad's treatment of the ball but chose not to make an official complaint this morning, and a subsequent International Cricket Council statement put the issue to bed by lunchtime.
Motivation to prove a point was nevertheless in no doubt as England set out on their mission improbable with the bat.
Strauss himself had the closest calls before tea, two successive lbw appeals from Dale Steyn turned down by Tony Hill with South Africa resisting the DRS temptation.
The England captain responded in Steyn's next over with three consecutive off-side boundaries, only to be struck painfully on the shoulder in the next by a nasty short ball as the fast bowler persisted from round the wicket.
There was a moment of luck for each of England's left-handed openers shortly after tea, Cook's aerial sweep on 27 off Paul Harris landing just over Friedel de Wet's head in the deep but going only for four and Strauss edging Morne Morkel for a boundary at catchable height between second slip and gully to go to 28.
Cook would then have been well out five short of his 50, attempting a faulty single for Strauss to point, but JP Duminy was unable to hit one stump.
He survived to reach his half-century from 105 balls but was still the first England batsman to go, mis-pulling a catch high behind him to Mark Boucher in the first over of a new spell from De Wet.
When Strauss fell bat-pad to Harris only three overs later, England were up against it to revive receding hopes.
Pietersen was grateful - with just a single to his name - to DRS for proving Daryl Harper's lbw verdict for De Wet had to be overturned because of a big inside edge.
But he got little further before walking across his stumps and missing one from Steyn to go lbw for single-figures anyway.
It was therefore left to Jonathan Trott, in what was once his hometown, to see England to stumps in company with nightwatchman Anderson.
After 273 balls in the middle since early yesterday, and with exactly 100 of his runs in fours, Smith had finally been dismissed this morning - mis-hooking Graham Onions to give Paul Collingwood a steepling catch on the long-leg boundary.
Replays soon showed Onions had overstepped for a no-ball. Smith was off the field by then, though - and England were long overdue a slice of fortune. The troubles, on another glorious day, appeared to belong exclusively to the tourists - and in case Anderson was not already feeling the heat sufficiently, he also picked up a warning for running on the pitch in his follow-through from umpire Harper.
After Smith's 85-run third-wicket stand with Jacques Kallis ended, the remaining two hours of South Africa batting saw two trends broken.
Kallis surprisingly was out four short of a 53rd Test half-century - caught-behind trying to hit Anderson on the up past cover - and Duminy avoided a third successive first-ball duck.
Then in the early-afternoon chase for quick runs AB de Villiers, Boucher and Duminy all fell in the cause as Anderson and Graeme Swann finished with three expensive wickets each.