It will take a rearguard action every bit as great as those that defied South Africa at Centurion and Cape Town and Australia in Cardiff – and even New Zealand in Dunedin - if England are to avoid one of their most unlikely and embarrassing defeats in modern memory tomorrow here at Eden Park.
They will go into the final day of a series they were expected to dominate at 90 for four, still needing a theoretical 391 to win, after suffering the crushing blow of losing captain Alastair Cook for 43 just 27 balls from the close and then nightwatchman Steven Finn to what became the very last ball.
With the captain, and then the man who had held up New Zealand in the first Test, went much of England's hopes of defying a Black Caps team who have exceeded the expectations of all but their most fanatical followers by outplaying their highly ranked visitors in every department in this decisive final Test.
It is worth remembering that New Zealand, the eighth-ranked Test team in the world, lost seven of their previous eight Tests before this series and had an internal crisis over Ross Taylor's removal as captain every bit as damaging as the Kevin Pietersen affair.
Yet tomorrow they really should wrap up only their fourth Test series triumph ever over England and their first against anybody other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since 2006 when they defeated West Indies. Yes, you could say this would be quite an upset.
England may yet put a spanner in the works of New Zealand's celebrations but even if they somehow get out of their last assignment of a long, tough winter with a draw they will have to take a long, hard look at how it could possibly have come to this.
The first session today summed up the Test and the whole sorry series for England. They were dreadful. They lacked ideas, imagination and, frankly, leadership as New Zealand moved into a position from where history tells you they cannot possibly lose this Test.
The big one: England captain Alastair Cook leaves the field after scoring 43 during day four of the third Test
Close catchers: Alastair Cook bats as his Kiwi counterpart McCullum deploys his men around the bat
Bad Trott: England's No 3 traipses off after being caught behind chasing a wide one in the evening session
Nick's nicked one: England's Compton (right) heads for the pavilion after being caught by New Zealand's wicketkeeper BJ Watling for two
The day was started by Stuart Broad giving a spiky, defensive interview to Sky in which he barely accepted that England's attack had been outbowled by New Zealand's unsung bowlers - which they emphatically have - and went rapidly downhill from there.
So bad were England before lunch that New Zealand, who began the day at 35 for three and under a smidgeon of pressure, were able to score freely and aggressively to rack up 141 in the session for the loss of just Dean Brownlie. It was witless, hopeless cricket from England notable for the petulance of Broad in berating his fielders and the apparent lack of anything resembling tactical nous.
The biggest recipient of England's largesse, in every sense, was Peter Fulton, a cricketing journeyman who was expected to be little more than a walking wicket in this series returning to the side after a four-year absence. Instead he today became only the fourth New Zealander, after Glenn Turner, Geoff Howarth and Andrew Jones, to score two centuries in a Test.
Job well done: Brendon McCullum applauds his team-mates at the close of a very successful day for the hosts
Double up: Fulton is applauded off on the day he completed his second century of the Test match
New Zealand started the fourth day with a lead of 274 but by the time Fulton and Brendon McCullum, taking yet another half century off England, had completed their stand of 117 in just 16.5 overs the Test was out of the tourists' reach in all but a remote mathematical sense.
Monty Panesar, who had started the day by taking Brownlie's wicket to an excellent catch from Ian Bell and bowled four maidens on the trot, was then destroyed to the tune of 52 runs in his next five overs.
Fulton, vulnerable outside off-stump, was allowed to indulge his love of the leg side again, seemingly despatching Panesar over the short straight boundary here at will.
Centurion: Fulton celebrates his mean feat with a simple wave of the bat to the sparse Auckland crowd
Proud parents: Wendy and Gordon Fulton watch their son Peter score a century on day four
It was when Fulton brought up his hundred with another straight six, this time off Broad, that the game really was up for England. McCullum, a combative purposeful cricketer who has thoroughly vindicated his controversial elevation above Taylor by out-captaining Cook in this series, delayed his declaration possibly longer than he needed to but still set his opponents a near impossible 481 to win.
As no team has ever successfully chased more than the 418 West Indies achieved against Australia in Antigua in 2002-03 – and England have never got higher than the 332 they made against Australia in Melbourne in 1928-29 to win a Test – this was something of a tall order.
It was quickly made worse when Nick Compton, who came into this match with successive centuries, fell cheaply for the second time in the match and then could have been made terminal when Cook was dropped by a diving wicketkeeper BJ Watling off Tim Southee on one.
Down and out: Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Hamish Rutherford celebrate taking Cook's wicket
It looked like it could prove a hugely costly drop but when Jonathan Trott was out, uncharacteristically, driving at a wide one from Neil Wagner, and then Cook was snaffled by a smart Brownlie slip catch off Kane Williamson England were in big trouble.
Bell and nightwatchman Steven Finn looked like they would survive to the close before Finn was caught at gully from the first ball of the last over. It is all down to Bell and the young Yorkshiremen Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow if England are to have any hope tomorrow.
Then, whether they manage to hold on or not, it will be time for some soul-searching before not only the return series against New Zealand in England in May but 10 back-to-back Ashes Tests.
Top effort: Ian Bell pouches Brownlie's skier (left) and celebrates with his team-mates (right)