Cole provided coach Sven-Goran Eriksson with the ideal tonic ahead of the European Championship qualifier at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium on Wednesday with his first senior goal in the 82nd minute.
The Hammers star, one of a staggering 21 substitutions during the 90 minutes at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester, hit a stunning 20-yard free-kick winner after the 21-year-old was hauled down by Nemanja Vidic.
The game was drifting along aimlessly until Gerrard decided to take matters into his own hands in the 35th minute, and mercifully so for the watching public who had heeded the countless warnings about their behaviour before the game.
The Liverpool midfielder first played a one-two with Frank Lampard, continuing his run before another quick exchange, this time with Anfield team-mate Michael Owen on the left.
There was no stopping Gerrard as he then gratefully guided home Owen's low cross from just inside the six-yard box for his third international goal.
Gerrard is clearly England's talisman for they have now won 13 and drawn four of the 17 games in which he has played.
England looked set to go into the break with a deserved lead until a defensive lapse paved the way for the equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Zvonimir Vukic's corner was met by a powerful downward header from Nenad Jestrovic, with the ball crossing the line before a prone Ashley Cole could clear.
A plethora of substitutions followed for the restart five for each side while Owen passed the skipper's armband to Heskey to lead his country for the first time.
Such an honour, though, lasted a mere 16 minutes for Phil Neville then took up the duty following Heskey's departure just after the hour to accommodate the arrival of Darius Vassell.
The Manchester United man then handed the armband onto Jamie Carragher for the final four minutes as England used four captains in total.
Such was the increasingly sterile nature of the second half, the England supporters made paper planes out of the FA leaflets deposited on their seats before kick off pleading for good behaviour.
Such was the volume which rained down on the pitch behind James's goal, it resulted in a tannoy address urging the fans to stop, although the warning was ignored on this occasion.
It was left to Cole to end such entertainment with his free-kick strike, although Wayne Rooney came within a whisker of adding an exclamation point to the scoreline only to be denied by a stunning fingertip save from substitute keeper Dragan Zilic.
ENGLAND: James, Mills (Carragher 61), Southgate (Terry 45), Upson (Barry 85), Ashley Cole (Bridge 46), Phil Neville (Beattie 88), Gerrard (Jenas 46), Lampard (Joe Cole 61), Scholes (Hargreaves 46), Owen (Rooney 45), Heskey (Vassell 61).
SERBIA & MONTENEGRO: Jevric (Zilic 67), Mirkovic (Nenad Brnovic 46), Didic (Darko Kovacevic 82), Stefanovic (Krstajic 50), Markovic (Njegus 67), Duljac (Boskovic 47), Kovacedic (Malbasa 46), Dmitrovic (Trobok 46), Sasa Ilic (Mijatovic 68), Zvonimir Vukic (Nenad Djordjevic 46), Jestrovic (Milosevic 74).