Phil Mustard's half-century held together a Durham innings that had threatened to subside feebly enough to gloss over some shortcomings in Middlesex's catching after the First Division leaders had backed their bowlers to repeat last season's first-day gains on this ground.
It was an innings that acquired more value as Middlesex lost openers Chris Rogers and Sam Robson with three runs scored in reply. Given that the two have more than 1,100 runs in the Championship so far, it was no wonder that Durham looked pleased with themselves. Robson had no answer to the delivery from Graham Onions that speared through his defences to clip the top of off-stump.
Middlesex bowled out Durham for 102 here last July, even though the home side went on to win by 15 runs to spark a strong finish to the season. They were without the man whose wickets have driven their early-season success as Tim Murtagh is playing in two one-day internationals for Ireland against Pakistan this week. Yet they were given an encouraging start when his replacement, Corey Collymore, dismissed Mark Stoneman with his sixth ball.
In the event, Durham had the upper hand in the morning session as Keaton Jennings and Scott Borthwick belied their relative inexperience in a partnership that took their side to 100 for 1 at lunch. Robson spilled the first of two straightforward chances in the slips when 20-year-old Jennings had reached 30.
There was much more conviction to Middlesex in the afternoon session. Borthwick, who made his first half-century since being elevated to No 3, perished immediately having done so when Gareth Berg switched from bowling round to over the wicket, prompting a collapse from 108 for 1 to 149 for 5.
Ben Stokes, who struggled after taking a blow on the inside of his knee, was dropped by first slip Dawid Malan on 11 but had not added substantially when he waved his bat one-handed at James Harris and was caught behind off an inside edge.
Paul Collingwood was put down first ball behind the stumps off Toby Roland-Jones but spared wicketkeeper John Simpson's feelings by pulling the first ball of Harris's next over straight to midwicket.
The captain's departure raised the likelihood of Durham's tail being exposed much earlier than he had hoped but Mustard and Will Smith brought their experience to bear and looked comfortable until Smith made an airy attempt to drive Berg through the off side and edged to first slip.
The next three wickets fell cheaply, Collymore taking two in two balls with the new ball to finish with 4 for 61. But Mustard stuck to his task and snatched a second batting point that Durham had not expected before he holed out to Roland-Jones.