The hosts, chasing a 3-0 series whitewash, were eventually dismissed for 416 yesterday afternoon with Woakes making 66 and Jonny Bairstow finishing unbeaten on 167.
However, having rolled over tamely in the previous matches at Leeds and Durham, Sri Lanka dug in to close on 162-1 – 254 in arrears and well placed to force at least a draw.
Steven Finn made the only breakthrough for England when he had Dimuth Karunaratne caught behind for 50 following an opening stand of 108 with Kaushal Silva.
Silva was still there at stumps on 79, with Kusal Mendis making an unbeaten 25 as England’s attack toiled on a flat pitch, with sunny overhead conditions denying them any assistance through the air.
“It’s obviously a pretty good batting surface,” Woakes said.
“We got over 400 batting first – we actually felt like it did a little bit (Thursday) and they bowled reasonably well.
“But getting 19 wickets (after yesterday) – it looks like it’s flattened out a little bit – is going to be tough. It’s Test cricket, you’ve got to adapt to the conditions. It was never going to be easy, the Sri Lankans have batted well.
“I suppose sometimes you do look up here rather than down. Hopefully that is the case, we can get the ball moving around, because it’s important we get the ball moving sideways or it’s pretty easy to bat here. You always expect in England for the ball to do a bit and the ball to swing, but it definitely didn’t do that so you have to think on your feet.”
Silva revealed that the tourists’ improved batting had come about after they made a confidence-boosting 475 in their second innings at Chester-le-Street after being bundled out for 101 and forced to follow on.
“That innings has helped us a lot in terms of our confidence,” he said. “When the sun is out... the ball doesn’t swing much – at the end of the day you still have to play really well, they’ve got a quality attack.”