England are on their worst winless streak at home for 30 years and you wouldn't rule out another bout of Wembley paralysis, and not simply because creaking Frank Lampard has returned to the starting line-up. In the only other change from Friday's easy victory in Bulgaria, Fabio Capello has drafted in James Milner, both because Theo Walcott has a "knock" and because Wales' best player, Gareth Bale, needs to be carefully tracked. Can't leave anything to chance when you're hosting the team ranked 117th in the world.
Bale produced his best ever performance for his country as Wales' ended an epic slump by beating Montenegro last Friday but two of the other star performers in that match, David Vaughan and Craig Bellamy, got yellow cards booked and are therefore suspended. That was particularly harsh on Bellamy, who was booked for an imaginary foul, but others might say that it's impossible to be too harsh on Craig Bellamy so there you go. The absent duo are replaced tonight by Jack Collison and Andrew Crofts.
Steve Morison was the only Norwich player to look out of his depth when they took on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week but after a fine performance against Montenegro he may be fancying his chances of giving John Terry a tougher game this time, possibly having got tips off Grant Holt, who tormented the England captain in that narrow Norwich loss. In all likelihood, however, most of the action is going to be around the Welsh box, which means at least someone in red is going to have to replicate the magnificent defiance of Richard Dunne in Moscow this afternoon if Wales are to avoid defeat.
England: Hart; Smalling, Cole, Cahill, Terry; Barry, Downing, Lampard, Milner; Young, Rooney.
Wales: Hennessey; Gunter, Blake, Williams, Taylor; Ledley, Crofts, Ramsey; Collison, Morison, Bale
7:35pm: Word from Wembley is that congestion outside the ground is so bad that kick-off is likely to be delayed. Next year's Olympics are going to be a right old lark, aren't they?
7:39pm: So much for the kick-off delay. The teams waddle out onto the pitch to moderate applause: Wembley still only seems about half-full ...
7:41pm: The Welsh anthem is greeted by boos and whistles by a sizeable contingent of heroic Englishmen in the crowd. Well done lads, that'll learn 'em.
7:42pm: Not to be outdone, some avenging Welsh fans boo (a particularly dreary rendition of) God Save the Queen.
1 min: England set the game in motion. Immediately they begin stroking the ball around at a somewhat leisurely pace. They eventually work their way down the left before Gunter intervenes, poking the ball out of play from beneath Cole's feet.
3 min: So it's all England so far, but most in the English half too. In other words, nothing much is happening yet. Or, "the sides are just feeling each other out".
5 min: You could call England's start ponderous or composed, depending on your mood. But Lampard, for one, appears to have had enough of the slow sideways passing so launches on long for Rooney to chase. Williams misjudges it but Hennessey hurtles off his line to intercept before Rooney can impose punishment.
7 min: Blake diverts a Cole cross behind for a corner. Terry meets Young's delivery but heads behind, then complains about Williams' holding him even though he had a handful of Williams' short too.
9 min: England are dominating possession, and channelling most of their attack down their left, seemingly having identified Gunter as a weak link. Cole is getting a lot of space but so far has not made optimal use of it.
11 min: As soon as Bale gets the ball, which is rarely, England players converge on him. Young proves the point, by chopping the Spur down mid-way inside the England half. Bale swings in the resultant freekick and Williams nods several yards wide.
12 min: Wales are beginning to emerge as an offensive force, having weathered England's rather feeble storm. Collison embarks on a fine run through the middle before being halted by an impressive Terry challenge. Cahill attempts to mop up but only goes an spills a bucket of dirty water all over the box, allowing Ramsey to fire off a shot from the edge of the area. A terrible shot, as it turned out.
14 min: Morison gives Terry a bit of the Grant Holt treatment, outrunning and then outmuscling the England captain to reach a long ball first. And then boom a rash shot miles over from 25 yards and an acute angle. "You know, the fact that the crowd applauded a successful sideways pass from Lampard to Cole in the sixth minute tells you everything that is wrong with the English game," intones Phil Sawyer. "Have our expectations really sunk so low?" Well, in days of yore they'd have been baying at every player to launch it into the mixer, so perhaps that is progress?
17 min: Taylor buys a Downing feint all too easily but the winger overhits his cross. However, encouraged by the ease with which Downing got to the by-line, England work it down the right again, and this time the cross demands an urgent headed clearance.
19 min: England have truly twigged that Downing has Taylor on toast, so are feeding him regularly. A fine cross towards Rooney from the Liverpool man prompts Hennessey to scamper off his line to claim. Meanwhile, this from Robin Hazlehurst. "Fancy updates from Norn Iron's match in Estonia?" chirps Robin. "I'm watching it live on Estonian TV - I would have gone but the game actually sold out. 30 minutes gone, NI had most of the possession but not too many real threats, and Vunk has just put Estonia ahead with a cracking first-time strike from outside the box. Worth looking up. The Irish have now got the vunk on - oh and Estonia have just scored from 30 yards, Kink this time. Vunk and Kink, what a strikeforce."
20 min: England are too proud to rough up Wales' main man. Milner gets a deserved booking for clattering into Bale.
23 min: In a nutshell, this has been a typical England Wembley performance so far. Uninspired.
25 min: A lapse of concentration from Cole gives Wales a corner. The visitors must be beginning to sense an upset given England's drabness so far. But they'll have to come up with something better than the weak corner that they've just delivered.
27 min: The Welsh have a solid centre so England can only make any ground down the wings. Young jinks and tries to tempt Gunter into committing himself but the defender holds his ground, though Young still manages to deliver a dangerous cross, which Rooney meet and volleys way, way over.
30 min: Wales are working extremely hard to subdue England, a few forays down the flanks from Downing and Young being the only signs of English penetration. The midfield trio of Lampard, Milner and Barry is not, would you believe, offering any ingenuity.
32 min: Gunter dispossess goals deep in his own half and then races forward ... and completely loses his head, attempting to blast the ball into the top corner from 30 yards. Keep their composure in such situations and Wales could shock England.
GOAL! England 1-0 Wales (Young 35') Unsurprisingly the wingers were responsible for the break-through. Downing twisted and darted past Ledley down the right and then cut the ball back into the centre, where Young arrived to drive low into the net from eight yards.
36 min: Downing has his dander up and that's bad news for Taylor, who's starting to look decidedly dizzy.
38 min: Bale attempts a solo burst from deep, but runs into trouble and England launch the ball back forward quickfast. Hennessey is forced to charge off his line to boot it clear just before Rooney could latch onto it.
40 min: Young produces a superb cross after a short corner, but Rooney fails to connect with an attempted header just five yards out.
42 min: Wales' limitations as an attacking force are being exposed now, as despite their attempts to rebel against their apparent fate, England, becalmed by the goal, are comfortably on top, without dazzling.
Half-time: England are doing enough. After a desultory half hour Downing and Young combined for a fine goal and confidence has coursed through them ever since. They've been far from brilliant, but they've been better than Wales.
In other news, Armenia have just taken the lead in Slovakia, meaning Ireland could remain in the runners-up spot tonight following their jammy draw in Russia.
On England: "It looks like Downing playing for Liverpool and Young playing for Manchester United is a wing-wing situation for England," chortles Erlend Andenaes.
46 min: The second half is under way. And within seconds Lampard threads a nice ball through to Rooney, whose cross-cum-shot from the right is beaten away by Hennessey. It's an enterprising start from England, unlike in the first period. They're clearly keen to finish the Welsh off. Meanwhile, here's an observation from Gareth Williams. "According to Michael Owen on Twitter, following that England goal, 'wingers that can beat players and cross balls are worth their weight in gold. Great finish by Ash.' Currently gold is trading at about £38,000 per kilo. Assuming Stuart Downing weighs about 70kg then Michael thinks he is worth about £2.7million. Does that mean he thinks King Kenny dramatically overpaid for the ex-Middlesbrough man?" You might be right. What should he have said: worth his weight in Andy Carrolls?
49 min: Ramsey sends a lovely ball over the top for Bale to chase ... he's in ... and then he's pulled back, as the linesman incorrectly flags for offside. What a reprieve for England. "I like the fact (as an Aston Villa fan) that Young and Downing are now world class after less than two months at 'big 4 clubs'," cuts Bryan Jones. "Must be a crash course as according to the press they were rubbish before, and Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon were the future."
52 min: This remains a contest. England's lack of precision in and around the Welsh box has prevented them from finishing Wales off and the Welsh have intermittently hinted at danger going forward.
55 min: Bale, feeling obliged to try to do everything himself, skips past Cole, then past Barry ... before Milner catches up with him and nudges the ball away from him. Meanwhile, Nick Ladner has an alternative suggestion as to Downing's value. "Worth his volume in inkjet printer ink, perhaps?"
57 min: Good work down the right by Bale, followed by a simp0le pass in-field to tee up Ramsey. But the Arsenal man mis-controls and England are able to scramble the ball behind for a corner. England do look vulnerable at the back.
62 min: Slaloming run by Barry into the Welsh box. The City man then keeps his cool to roll the ball into the path of Lampard, who surges into the box to lash it just over.
64 min: Downing dodges his way past Taylor yet again, only to be fouled by the beleaguered full-back. Freekick to England in a fine crossing position. Hennessey fumbles it under pressure, and Cahill tries to turn it into the net on the turn from a difficult angle but wellies it over the bar. "He's a nubile ... I mean, nimble and agile young man," gushes Clive Tyldsley on ITV. Golly.
67 min: Wales exert a rather scruffy sort of pressure on England, who should be out of sight but have been too slovenly at crucial times. Hart claims a Bale cross at the second attempt.
68 min: Wales substitution: Morison off, Earnshaw on.
71 min: Collison loses the ball to Lampard in midfield and the Chelsea player immediately feeds Rooney, who is stripped (of the ball) by superb Blake challenge on the edge of the area.
73 min: England substitution: Lampard off, after a decent though hardly decisive game, and Parker on. Capello really going for it, then.
74 min: A roar of optimism from the Welsh fans as Smalling is penalised for for climbing on Ramsey. Freekick to Wales about 28 yards out, central.
75 min: Bale tonks the freekick two yards over.
76 min: What a miss! That bears repeating WHAT A MISS! Earnshaw has just taken careful aim and then blasted the ball over the bar from three yards! Blake did well to meet a freekick at the far post and head it back across goal, and Earnshaw seemed certain to score. Instead he left the entire Welsh team with their heads in the hands. WHAT A MISS!
78 min: Symptomatic of England's decline in the last 20 minutes: Downing, until then their best player, is replaced by Adam Johnson.
80 min: Wales are pressing for an equaliser here and Ramsey presents Gunter with a great chance, but Hart hares off his lien to make an excellent save. Although it transpires that it would not have counted, as Gunter was fractionally offside. "Watching Bale and Ramsey play for Wales is like when the two best players in school got picked in the same team," blurts Nick Byrne. "Constantly looking to pass to each other and grudgingly having to make the occasional pass to a Gunter or a Croft. As a Wales fan sick of watching Bellamy solo efforts can I express my delight we've now got two!"
82 min: Ramsey, the most inventive midfielder on show tonight, slips a ball through to Earnshaw. he skedaddles down the right and then tries a Norman Whiteside-style curler into the far corner from the edge of the box. Over the bar it goes.
85 min: Wales substitution: Collison off, Andy King on. A Welsh equaliser remains a possibility: they've outpassed England in midfield over the last 30 minutes or so but their lack of a cutting edge is looking costly.
86 min: Every England player bar Rooney (who, incidentally, has been largely irrelevant tonight) is back in their own box as they attempt to keep Wales at bay. They're clinging on here.
88 min: Earnshaw, desperate to atone for his awful miss, lets fly from 25 yards. Easy save for Hart.
89 min: England substitution: Rooney off, bon viveur Andy Carroll on. Speaking of Liverpool players, here's Mark Ireland on Downing. "If Downing does weigh 70kg, then he weighs the same as 11 spider monkeys, or 0.14 of a whale testicle. Who knew?"
90 min: ITV's pundits get plenty of flak but they're got their man-of-the-match decision right: Ramsey gets the bubbly.
Full-time: England have won thanks to a fine goal by Young and an appalling miss by Earnshaw. That, and impressive performances by Downing and Young, are about the sum of the plus points for England tonight. Gary Speed, meanwhile, cane take a lot of satisfaction from the manner in which his side outpassed the hosts in the second half as they sought an equaliser that would not have been undeserved. Neither of these sides, is must be said, look like they'll be troubling Europe's big boys any time soon.