(CNN) -- A fine spell of bowling from Tim Bresnan put England on the verge of victory in the fourth Ashes Test on Tuesday as Australia's batsmen capitulated for the second time in Melbourne.
The tourists racked up a first-innings lead of 415 after being bowled out for 513 on day three, then Bresnan took three top-order wickets in the space of 18 balls after tea as Australia limped to stumps on 169-6.
The hosts, who leveled the five-match series at 1-1 with a thumping win in the previous match in Perth, effectively have only three wickets left after Ryan Harris suffered a foot injury while bowling and is unlikely to be able to bat on Wednesday.
A win will see holders England retain the Ashes, and then Andrew Strauss' team can seek to clinch a first series victory in Australia since 1987 in the final Test in Sydney starting on January 3.
"We're now in a position where we're a long way from even salvaging a draw," Australia all-rounder Shane Watson told reporters.
Watson top-scored for his team with 54, but was responsible for the run-out of his opening partner Phil Hughes with the total on 53.
He was trapped leg before wicket by Bresnan after adding 47 with captain Ricky Ponting, who was bowled three runs later for 20 before Mike Hussey -- Australia's best batsman this series -- went without scoring.
"After playing so well in Perth and feeling like we have a big chance of really being in the series and winning the Ashes, now to be in the position that we are after our poor performance in this whole game is very shattering," Watson said.
He backed Ponting, who was fined for arguing with the umpires on Monday and faces the prospect of becoming the first skipper from his country to loses three Ashes series since 1890.
"He's a very, very tough man mentally -- as he has shown throughout his whole career," Watson said. "Everyone will always be right behind Ricky. He has been a brilliant leader for us. He's such an amazing player.
"With a few things going his way, he'll be able to turn things around. There's no doubt no-one will ever question his ability to be able to lead the group."
England resumed on 444-5 with Jonathan Trott on 141 and Matt Prior on 75.
Prior added just 10 runs before falling to Peter Siddle, ending the duo's partnership of 173.
Siddle also dismissed Bresnan (4) and last man James Anderson (1) to finish with figures of 6-75, while fellow pace bowler Ben Hilfenhaus picked up two wickets.
Trott was left unbeaten on 168 off 345 balls, having come to the crease at 159-1 on Monday.
He was then instrumental in ending Hughes' innings for 23 as Watson called for a quick single that was not there.
Bresnan's triple strike decimated Australia's top order as he impressed in his first outing of the series, having replaced the rested Steve Finn.
Then spinner Graeme Swann accounted for vice-captain Michael Clarke (13) and Anderson bowled Steven Smith for 38.
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin (11) and fast bowler Mitchell Johnson (6) safely reached stumps but, despite both having talent with the bat, face a mammoth task to even make England bat for a second time.