Johnson spent much of the game thumping his desk in the Otago Stadium in frustration as penalty after penalty was conceded. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, with even the metronomic Jonny Wilkinson missing five successive penalties.
Wait until I get them back in the changing room: England coach Martin Johnson suffers as his team struggle
England looked sluggish against an obdurate and predictably physical Argentina side. But worse still, their discipline right from the off gave the Pumas the early momentum, the lead and a belief that grew and grew.
Johnson will have been furious to see his team give away three penalties in the first five minutes and with New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence running out of patience, England were lucky to lose only Dan Cole to the sinbin after persistent infringements, primarily in the key breakdown area.
'We weren't squeaky clean at the start and the first three penalties we gave away were all dull,' said captain Mike Tindall. 'If you give away three easy penalties, you're going to make it hard work.'
It was not the first time Johnson's England have fallen foul of a match referee, and this ill-discipline is an issue that needs to be rectified immediately. England were lucky that Argentina, through captain Felipe Contepomi and especially Martin Rodriguez, sank just three out of their nine penalties, most of them easier than those missed by Wilkinson.
On another day, against a kicker on form, England would have been buried. The reason for this mess is simple. They found themselves in an arm-wrestle against a team you do not, under any circumstances, want
The men in black - another questionable decision in the land of the All Blacks, especially when the numbers began to peel off from England's new away strip - failed to enter the Pumas' 22 in the first quarter of the game. When Ben Foden finally found some daylight after 26 minutes, he shredded the Argentina defence to bits. But England's dangerous English back three were barely in play.
Meanwhile, Manu Tuilagi was under-used, and when he did get his large hands on the ball, it was never in any meaningful space to wreak his trademark havoc
It was only when Ben Youngs sprinted on to the pitch to replace scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth that England upped their tempo and created the quick ball for the Leicester scrum-half to score the crucial try and give Wilkinson the simple conversion chance to grab the lead for the first time in the game with 13 minutes remaining.
Not even Wilkinson was going to fail from in front of the posts, but in missing five out of his eight kicks at goal, England's most celebrated rugby star endured, by his own extraordinary standards, a nightmare of a game.
Most of those kicks were from long range and at an angle. An in-form Wilkinson would still have slotted the ball over, of course, but he was woefully wide of the mark and Tindall, as captain, should have instructed his 2003 World Cupwinning colleague to kick for the corner to gain much-needed territory and put pressure on the Pumas.
It is almost unheard of to ask Wilkinson to stop going for goal, especially in such a tight game, but as the misses were racked up, this was an option England refused to take
So what now? Suddenly England's seemingly easy - if physical - game against Georgia next Sunday has become crucial because they need to put in a convincing performance to regain self-belief and to justify their status as outside Cup contenders.
That game might have previously been seen as a chance to give the squad a run-out. Not any more. Lewis Moody is expected to be fit to take over the captain's armband
His foraging presence at the breakdown and leadership should benefit England, while Johnson may now consider playing James Haskell at No 8 in place of Nick Easter.
In the back line, Youngs is almost certain to start after the impact he made, while Mark Cueto's injured back should recover in time for him to replace Delon Armitage, who failed to make the most of the chance Foden's break created.
One thing is certain. A great deal of work will now take place on the England training pitch this week. It may be 'only Georgia' next Sunday, but England will prepare as if it is the All Blacks - the real All Blacks that is, not the team who turned up in the strip yesterday but failed to back it up with any kind of a performance