The winger's first-half strike was enough for the three points, but Gary Speed's men put up a good performance and would have earned a draw if not for a glaring Rob Earnshaw missA first-half strike from Ashley Young put England on the brink of Euro 2012 qualification as they beat Wales 1-0 at Wembley.
Young drilled home Stewart Downing’s cross after 35 minutes to secure the three points for Fabio Capello’s team, but it was far from plain sailing against a spirited Welsh side who belied their lowly ranking.
And they could have come away with a point haf substitute Robert Earnshaw not missed an open goal with 10 minutes remaining.
For England, it is a first win in three competitive matches at Wembley and means a draw in Montenegro next month will secure qualification to Euro 2012, but they will not have been greatly enthused by a performance which, Young and Downing aside, was not very encouraging.
Instead, it is the visitors who will feel the most heartened by their performance which was in complete contrast to their efforts in the 2-0 reverse in Cardiff earlier in qualifying, although they will be upset not to have left with a share of the spoils after frustrating the side ranked fourth in the world for the vast majority of the match.
Both sides responded to victories on Friday by making two changes to their side. For the visitors both changes were forced through suspensions as Craig Bellamy and David Vaughan were replaced by Andrew Crofts and Jack Collison.
However, the bigger surprises came from the home camp as Capello brought back Frank Lampard and James Milner for Scott Parker and Theo Walcott, who had a slight hamstring injury.
John Terry had the first chance for the Three Lions after seven minutes. After Darcy Blake had needlessly sliced out Ashley Cole’s low cross for a corner, the England skipper headed over Young’s centre from eight yards out with Ashley Williams grabbing a hold of his shirt, much to the centre-back’s annoyance.
Wales had their first attempt on goal soon after with Gareth Bale providing the set-piece wide from the right after being the victim of a late challenge by Young.
However, Williams could not get much on the delivery and his header drifted harmlessly wide of the near post.
The visitors were more than holding their own in the early stages and Terry had to make a great sliding challenge on Collison who had made a strong run down the middle and was shaping to shoot.
England’s main threat was coming from the wings; Wayne Hennessey had to be alert off his line to beat Young to one pass and on the other wing, Stewart Downing was having success against young full-back Neil Taylor.
And from one particularly inviting cross, Blake had to make a desperate header to turn the ball out for a corner with Wayne Rooney lurking just behind.
Rooney was coming into the match on a rich vein of scoring form following his two goals in Sofia on Friday and he showed once more the confidence he was feeling as he tried to chip Hennessey from 25 yards after playing a one-two with Lampard, but his effort went over the bar.
Milner’s inclusion for the match was partly due to his defensive capabilities, with Capello worried about the pace of Bale, but he was booked after just 20 minutes for a late sliding challenge which cleaned up the winger, who was once again playing on the right of midfield.
The Welsh fans, who unlike the hosts had filled their quota of tickets, were getting more vocal as their side continued to more than hold their own, but without offering much of an attacking threat.
In a rare foray forward, Aaron Ramsey got in down the right and sent in a brilliant drilled cross between goalkeeper and defenders but nobody in red was there to get on the end of it.
At the other end, Hennessey had to punch from under the nose of Cahill following an England free-kick and Young turned Chris Gunther inside-out before sending in a cross which Downing acrobatically volleyed over.
The full-back got his own back soon after by tackling Cole in the Welsh half before running to the right-hand side of the England penalty area, but lacking options he sliced his shot wide.
Despite not offering much of a threat in front of the Wales goal, the home side managed to take the lead after 35 minutes courtesy of Young, although a lot of credit should be given to Downing for the assist.
Moments earlier Milner had gone past Williams on the right and sent in a cross which had been cleared, but when the ball was sent back to the wing, this time to the Liverpool wide-man, he took on and beat Ledley before sending the ball back to Young who was left unmarked in front of a posse of Welsh players and could drill home at the near post.
England had failed to win their last two competitive fixtures at Wembley, drawing against Switzerland and Montenegro, but the goal finally allowed them to play with some confidence in front of their home supporters as they continued to look threatening down the wings.
Rooney could have doubled the tally but he was unable to turn in Young’s inswinging cross from a well-worked short corner as the ball drifted wide of the post.
Wales would have been glad to hear the half-time whistle and regroup following Young’s goal, but England started the second 45 minutes as they had ended the first.
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Hennessey had to parry Young’s shot from a very narrow angle down the right then after some neat interplay between Rooney, Cole and Milner, Barry shot wide from just outside the area slightly off-balance having miscontrolled the ball.
Young and Downing continued to send in dangerous crosses which the Welsh defence did well to deal with, but at the other end there was a renewed threat from the so far subdued Bale.
Sticking to his position on the right, he was incorrectly called offside when set through, then minutes later he cut in past Cole before squaring to the incoming Ramsey, but he was well tracked by Gareth Barry who got back to dispossess the Welsh captain as he shaped to shoot just inside the area.
Moments afterwards Bale sent in a whipped cross which Chris Smalling glanced wide for a corner in front of Joe Hart who was coming for the ball.
Bale was the one Welshman showing an attacking threat – he tried one ambitious effort form 30 yards which went high and wide – but for England goals seemed likely to come from many sources.
Barry made a storming run before setting up Lampard, but the re-called midfielder struggled to get the ball under control and could only shoot narrowly over from the edge of the area under pressure from defenders.
Next it was Milner to have a go after being teed up by Young, but his shot was deflected wide by Crofts.
Lampard was tripped by a frustrated Taylor on the England right and Hennessey spilled Downing’s cross, but fortunately for him Cahill shot over on the turn instead of trying to find a team-mate in the middle.
With 68 minutes gone, Steve Morison was replaced by Cardiff City striker Earnshaw as Gary Speed went in search of an equaliser which his side had battled hard for, whilst Parker came on for Lampard.
Bale had another shot at goal, this time from a 30 yard free-kick after Smalling had been penalised for climbing on Ramsey, but again it went over.
The away side were growing in confidence and they missed a guilt edged chance to equalise through Earnshaw who had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes.
Ramsey’s free-kick was hit back across goal by Blake invitingly to the striker, but a few yards out in front of an open goal he managed to hit his shot over the bar, much to the angst of his manager.
Earnshaw had another effort after being found by Bale, but cutting in from the left he curled his shot wide of the far post as Terry failed to close him down.
He tried again from 25 yards, but his low effort to Hart's right was easily saved, before Young cut in from the left and hit a shot to the near post which was collected by the goalkeeper.
Wales had been the dominant side in the last 10 minutes but as the full-time whistle they had nothing to show for their efforts.
They travel to Bulgaria next month looking for a consolation win, four days after England hope to secure qualification against Macedonia.