Visitors need just 36 more runs with seven wickets in hand.
Sri Lanka rattled England with three quick wickets late on the fourth day of the first Test in Galle on Sunday, but the visitors remained favourites to win the match with just 36 more runs needed and seven wickets in hand.
England was expected to comfortably close in on a victory after Sri Lanka finished with 359 in its second innings, leaving the visitors needing only 74 to win.
But Sri Lanka struck early, with Dom Sibley (2) and Zak Crawley (8) falling to left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya. Captain Joe Root was run-out for one after a mix-up with Jonny Bairstow.
Bairstow and Dan Lawrence took a nervous England to 38-3 as bad light brought an early end to proceedings.
Earlier, England’s spinners had claimed three key wickets to tighten the noose around the hosts in their second innings.
Thirimanne hits ton
Angelo Mathews struck 71 after hitting his 36th half-century in Tests to hold fort at one end after opener Lahiru Thirimanne made 111.