Euro 2012 qual. - Young secures narrow win over Wales
A fourth international goal for Ashley Young secured a 1-0 victory for England over Wales at Wembley but Fabio Capello's side were indebted to a horrendous miss by Robert Earnshaw in the final game before their crucial match against Montenegro in Podgorica.
Young struck after 35 minutes when finishing smartly from Stewart Downing's cut-back to ensure that England went six points clear of second-placed Montenegro in Group G with their first home win in five attempts.
The victory, coupled with Friday's win in Bulgaria, means any form of a draw will suffice in England's final qualifier to take them to the finals in Ukraine and Poland.
But on a tricky evening for Fabio Capello's side, respective FIFA world rankings of fourth and 117th were shown, to little surprise, to be entirely false as Wales performed far more impressively than they did during England's 2-0 victory in March. Captain Aaron Ramsey, in particular, supplied the kind of invention in the centre of midfield that eluded the hosts.
Indeed, Wales would have secured a point were it not for a quite unbelievable miss from Earnshaw after 77 minutes as he turned his shot over the bar from five yards out.
Capello opted to drop Scott Parker for fear of incurring a suspension ahead of the Montenegro game and Theo Walcott as a precaution due to a hamstring injury, and the introduction of Frank Lampard and James Milner seemed to ensure England were doomed to a pedestrian first half.
Milner's task was to shadow Gareth Bale and nullify Wales' main threat, though his efficiency in doing so was reduced after 20 minutes when he was booked for a rash challenge on the winger. Lampard, meanwhile, failed to shine alongside Gareth Barry.
Instead it was Wales, buoyed by an impressive 2-1 win over Montenegro last week, who looked the more inventive in possession early on and lone striker Steve Morison enjoyed a half-chance when putting John Terry under pressure in the right channel and firing a volley off target from a tight angle.
England were restricted to few chances, though Downing, performing on the right wing, was a sporadically lively presence and acrobatically volleyed off target after 28 minutes from a cross from Young. Seven minutes later the two former Aston Villa colleagues combined again to pierce the Wembley monotony.
Downing, a summer signing for Liverpool of course, twisted and turned his way past Joe Ledley on the right wing and cut back for Manchester United's new star, who dispatched an accomplished low finish into the bottom corner.
Before the half was out, and with England visibly improved, Young's cross sliced through the Wales defence following a short corner, but Rooney, well placed eight yards from goal, was unable to connect with his newly refurbished head.
England lapsed back into mediocrity all too easily but Barry did embark on a nice run after the hour mark before squaring for Lampard. The midfielder had the chance to silence his growing ranks of critics, and prove a point to Capello himself after the midfielder was dropped for the Bulgaria game, but lashed his shot over the bar.
Downing remained a source of potential danger and won a free-kick from Neil Taylor when being chopped down on the right. Young's subsequent free-kick was dropped by Hennessey under pressure from Chris Smalling but Gary Cahill was unable to make it two goals in two games when firing over.
Lampard's rather anonymous evening was brought to an end after 71 minutes as he was replaced by Parker, but the Wembley crowd afforded him a generous reception. It was not as generous as the miss perpetrated by substitute Earnshaw after 77 minutes though.
The impressive Ramsey floated a free-kick into the box and when Darcy Blake exploited some inattentive defending to poke the ball back across goal and into the path of Earnshaw, unmarked and with the goal at his mercy, the striker somehow contrived to put the ball over from five yards out. He hung his head in shame; Speed clasped his own in disbelief.
Wales were denied a point by Earnshaw's aberration, and England were spared a more probing post-mortem after a disappointing performance.
Meanwhile, Xherdan Shaqiri scored a brilliant hat-trick to give Switzerland a 3-1 win over Bulgaria and keep them in the hunt for second place.
Switzerland, handed a lifeline on Friday when second-placed Montenegro lost 2-1 to Wales, fell behind when Ivan Ivanov scored at the far post following a corner in the ninth minute.
Shaqiri levelled in first-half stoppage time following a clever one-two with Blerim Dzemaili. The 19-year-old put the Swiss ahead just after the hour and completed his hat-trick in the last minute with a long-range shot.
Switzerland are third in Group G with eight points from six games, three points behind Montenegro who did not play on Tuesday. The Swiss host Montenegro next month.