After a haphazard build-up, a crazy game was settled in Netherlands' favour by a moment of magic from Arjen Robben to leave England in an even more confused state than they had been before.
Two down after an hour following goals by Robben and Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Harry Redknapp must have been sat at home wondering whether he really wanted the "impossible job''.
By the time England had rallied manfully in the final five minutes and dragged themselves level through Gary Cahill and Ashley Young, interim boss Stuart Pearce had claims on being Fabio Capello's replacement for Euro 2012.
Robben's brilliant response - his second superb goal of the evening - gave the hosts a reality check. But after the madness, now the Football Association must get to work and sort out who will lead England into the summer, and whether Scott Parker gets to keep the captain's armband.
The stability Netherlands brought to Wembley, starting with nine of the team that began the World Cup final, under the same coach, Bert van Marwijk, contrasted sharply with the upheaval England have endured.
Coach and captain were making their debuts in the role - neither secure of the status beyond tonight - while Leighton Baines was among the four players to keep their spots from the November win over Sweden, with Ashley Cole on the bench.
On his first England start since November 2007, Micah Richards tempered his normal attacking instincts, yet when he did get forward, the combination with Manchester City team-mate Adam Johnson was quite rewarding.
Johnson had a goalbound shot deflected wide by John Heitinga, then released Richards, whose pass to Young led to calls for a penalty when the Manchester United man half went down under Heitinga's tackle.
Yet all too quickly, Pearce had to rip up his game plan as Steven Gerrard ambled off, as a precaution it was claimed, after feeling a niggle in his hamstring. A worrying end to an unsatisfactory day all round for the man so many expected would get the job Parker was given.
Daniel Sturridge's introduction meant Johnson had to swap sides, which rather curtailed his involvement.
The new boy did well, though. Sturridge was the source of England's first shot on target after the break, when his strike flew through a packed area and was beaten away by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Netherlands had managed one in the opening period, from the boot of Robben, which Joe Hart was equal to.
There was also the rare sight of Robin van Persie failing to snaffle a decent chance, the Arsenal man - who shrugged off worries about a groin injury to play - scooping over from 12 yards.
Amidst it all, Parker scurried and cajoled, making his tackles, putting his body on the line and leading from the front, just as Pearce wanted.
At one point the Tottenham midfielder was the meat in a touchline sandwich with Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt, and then landed on a camera stand.
England had reason to be quite pleased with themselves, but that changed in the space of two minutes just before the hour.
Sturridge conceded possession to Robben inside his own half, failed to track back properly, then watched as the former Chelsea winger scorched to the other end of the field and exploited a momentary misunderstanding between Smalling and Cahill before drilling a precise shot past Hart.
Netherlands scored again on their next attack as Huntelaar got the better of Smalling to nod home Kuyt's cross.
The awful consequence of that goal was a sickening clash of heads between Huntelaar and Smalling, which ended the involvement of both in the game.
Huntelaar was so groggy that initially he still had the clump of grass in his mouth that got lodged there when he landed.
At least he was able to walk off, though. Smalling departed on a stretcher, although he was conscious.
Sturridge wasted England's best chance when he anticipated Baines' misdirected shot but then tamely turned the ball to Stekelenburg.
Cahill showed him how it should be done five minutes from time when he collected Baines' through ball and finished neatly.
It was the prelude to a mad finish as England seemed to have secured a draw in stoppage time when Phil Jones rolled a brilliant through ball to Young, who clipped home, only for Robben's second moment of class to give the visitors victory.