A HOSTILE spell of fast bowling from Graham Napier put Essex back in the game after Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston had given Derbyshire the initiative on the opening day of the County Championship match at Chesterfield.
Madsen and Durston added 146 for the fourth wicket but the game changed when Durston was hit on the side of the helmet by a Napier bouncer and forced to retire hurt for 74 on his first Championship appearance since late April.
He was taken to hospital and it sparked a collapse that saw Derbyshire lose six wickets for 49 in 109 balls, with Napier claiming three for 11 in 31 including Madsen for 90 to finish with figures of four for 44.
Essex wicketkeeper James Foster took five catches but his side lost Tom Westley in the first over of their reply before they closed on 25 for one, 250 behind.
Madsen's decision to bat after winning the toss was no surprise given last season's game at Queen's Park, when Yorkshire made over 600.
Additionally, the Essex attack was weakened by a foot injury which ruled out their main strike bowler David Masters while Monty Panesar was dropped.
Napier extracted extra bounce early on but the openers were relatively comfortable until Tom Moore came on at the Pavilion End and made the breakthrough.
The 22-year-old, playing only his fourth first-class match, had Paul Borrington caught behind down the leg side off his glove for 23 and then moved one back to have Ben Slater lbw for 13.
But the prize wicket went to Reece Topley, who returned at the Lake End of the tree-ringed parkland ground to dismiss Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw two overs before lunch.
The West Indian Test star was beaten by a ball of full length as he shuffled across his crease to make it honours even after the first session - but the afternoon belonged to Derbyshire as Madsen and Durston took full advantage of good batting conditions.
Madsen came into the game on a lean run of form but soon looked set on the ground where he made 141 last July and Durston also quickly settled following his 89 in the Twenty20 on Sunday.
Essex skipper James Foster switched his bowlers around but neither batsman offered a chance as the pair added 127 runs in 34 overs between lunch and tea.
Very little beat the bat, although 11 fours went through the vacant third man position in the first two sessions when Essex used eight bowlers including the former Derbyshire all-rounder Greg Smith.
But Madsen and Durston pounced on anything loose, with the latter reaching his first Championship fifty for 14 months when he lifted Tim Phillips for six over mid-wicket before Napier changed the course of the day after tea.
The second ball of the final session struck Durston a sickening blow and two balls later, Alex Hughes nicked another lifting delivery to Foster before Smith plucked a full-blooded pull from Gareth Cross one-handed at mid-wicket.
David Wainwright steered Napier tamely to gully and Madsen's four-hour innings ended when he edged one that moved away and former Essex seamer Tony Palladino was caught behind before Napier finished the innings with the new ball.
Mark Footitt hit back by having Westley caught at short leg but Ravi Bopara and Nick Browne batted with determination to deny Derbyshire further success.
Durston was back at the ground by close of play and elite performance director Graeme Welch said: "They didn't keep him in, he's got to be around people tonight to make sure nothing happens but he seems okay.
"The doctor has said he's fine and he just needs observing this evening."
Napier said: "It's not nice to see a player taken off the field with an injury but it opened up an end for us and we took advantage of that situation.
"It's a good pitch with good pace and a bit of bounce and if you get the ball in the right area something is going to happen, so we have to be mindful when we bat."