Batting coach Graham Gooch described the tourists' fortunes in those terms after they reached stumps on day four of the final Test with a mighty task on their hands to somehow cling on for a drawn series.
Gooch was not yet giving up hope, but said: "I think it's a great reality check that you can't take any team lightly, and you can't play people on what it says in the rankings or what it says on a piece of paper."
Peter Fulton's second century in the match at Eden Park - his 136 three days ago was the 34-year-old's first in Test cricket - helped New Zealand to 224 for six declared.
England, in theoretical pursuit of a world-record 481 to win, then needed to bat out the four-and-a-half remaining sessions to close out a third successive stalemate and therefore a 0-0 outcome.
By stumps, they were 90 for four - minus three of their likeliest saviours at the top of the order, including Alastair Cook - and it was hard to see how they might keep the Kiwis at bay for another 90 overs.
Gooch added: "You have to play good cricket on the field, to compete, and certainly in probably two out of the three matches New Zealand have been in the ascendancy."
England's hosts are ranked eighth in the International Cricket Council table, to the tourists' second - a statistic open to revision on Tuesday, following India's 4-0 defeat of Australia.
Gooch conceded that it is conceivable, on some level at the start of the series, England allowed themselves to underestimate the task they faced here.
"Our performance is not up to the standard we've produced in the past, on a consistent basis - so we'll have to look at that," he said. "I wouldn't say we've taken them lightly after the first match, where they dominated the game."