The tourists were spared the hardship of following on after being bowled out for 204 to concede a deficit of 239 to New Zealand, Trent Boult finishing with a career-best six for 68. By stumps on day three, they had nonetheless hit back to reduce the Kiwis to 35 for three second time round - and Matt Prior is expecting a much-improved performance for the remainder of this potential series decider.
England's wicketkeeper dominated a century stand with Joe Root, but his 73 was not enough to sustain the recovery after his team had hit big trouble at 72 for five. He said: "We didn't bat well. I thought they bowled really well."
Prior added: "I know Trent ended up with the most wickets, but I thought Tim Southee bowled a couple of very good spells. Hats off. Credit to the New Zealand bowlers."
Brendon McCullum chose not to enforce the follow-on, a decision which met with an equivocal response from Prior, who stressed, however, that England's late success with the ball was a sign of their resilience.
"Either way, you're behind the eight-ball - quite considerably," he added. "We know that, and we've got to front up to that. I think we showed we are doing that, with the 20 overs we've just bowled there. To have them three for 30 was a fantastic effort.
"The way our bowlers came out again, after obviously spending a lot of time in the field this Test match, they came in and fought hard."
England's chances of victory, or even avoiding a 1-0 series defeat, are far from certain.
Prior added: "We're now in a position where we're going to need a bit of luck and a lot of skill. But if we can come in tomorrow morning and believe we can get early wickets, who knows?
"It's still a good deck. We're going to have to bat a lot better, obviously, but we can chase these runs."