Balcombe to the fore on Hampshire's day
Fast bowler David Balcombe took his LV= County Championship wicket haul for the season to 52 with four more against Essex to keep alive Hampshire's promotion ambitions.
On a green wicket at the Ageas Bowl, Balcombe returned 4-57 as Essex were bowled out for 180.
Hampshire responded with 165 for four by the close of the first day, trailing by 15 and happy to have made the best use of conditions which always favoured Balcombe and the other Hampshire seamers.
It proved to be a good toss for Hampshire captain Jimmy Adams to win, with the top six Essex batsmen out to slip catches and three more snared by wicketkeeper Michael Bates.
Essex were in trouble from the start with Balcombe dismissing openers Tom Westley and Jaik Mickleburgh to catches respectively at first and second slip in his first spell.
When left-arm seamer James Tomlinson had Owais Shah held at third slip by James Vince, Essex were 25 for three and there was no way back.
Ryan ten Doeschate followed and captain James Foster fell to another Vince catch at third slip from the last ball before lunch.
Balcombe's fourth wicket saw Adam Wheater caught behind and only then was there any concerted resistance.
From 112 for six, Mark Pettini was joined by Graham Napier in a stand of 54 before both departed in consecutive overs, Pettini to a smart catch by Liam Dawson at first slip off David Griffiths for 58 and Napier edging Sean Ervine behind on 26.
Pettini was the only Essex batsman to delay Hampshire's march to maximum bowling bonus points with a brave innings of 154 balls, which included nine fours.
Ervine bowled Tom Craddock and Essex were all out in the 53rd over when and Griffiths had Maurice Chambers caught behind for nought. Griffiths supported Balcombe with 3-40 while Ervine took 2-19 from 11 overs.
Despite the fall of Adams in the seventh over, Hampshire found batting far easier with Michael Carberry making a rapid 42.
Chambers, who had taken the wicket of Adams, also removed Carberry but Simon Katich and, late in the day, Bilal Shafayat took Hampshire to within striking distance of the Essex total.
Shafayat hit Napier for six to go in at stumps with 42 not out and Vince was unbeaten with 22 as Essex paid dearly for having to bat first in bowler-friendly conditions.