Wales were exceeding expectations but still trailing to Young’s first-half goal when Earnshaw was presented with the type of chance a Sunday morning park player would expect to put away 15 minutes from time.
Five yards out, central position, keeper no longer at home. All the Cardiff City man had to do was tap it in. Inexplicably, he failed, sidefooting over the bar to the shattering disbelief of a Wales team who deserved more as England moved to within a point of reaching Euro 2012.
Fabio Capello may believe his players don’t think of him as an ogre anymore. But after the fizz of Bulgaria, the Italian cannot have been happy with this flat performance.
A draw is now required in Montenegro on October 7 to book a place in next summer’s finals, when it is to be hoped Capello finds the more energetic incarnation of his side, even though they did manage to end a four-match sequence without a win on home soil.
In earning his 91st cap, Ashley Cole was moving on his own into sixth position in England’s all-time appearance table.
It looked as if the 30-year-old was on a mission to mark the occasion with his first goal judging by the forceful and persistent manner with which he went forward during the opening exchanges.
Had Chris Gunter not headed a deep Stewart Downing cross out of the six-yard box, Cole, lurking with intent behind, might well have broken his 10-year drought.
On the other flank, it took Stewart Downing some time to make inroads into a blanket Welsh defence as coach Gary Speed fulfilled Capello’s pre-match observation that away teams at Wembley regard their first mission as being hard to break down.
Capello’s wish for an early goal went unanswered.
Wayne Rooney glided a shot over from 20 yards, Downing’s acrobatic volley was launched from much closer but came no nearer to beating Wayne Hennessey.
The Welsh defence used tactics more akin to wrestling in stopping John Terry attacking a couple of corners.
It was all very frustrating for the hosts, who found themselves in a bit of bother when Gunter robbed Cole inside the Welsh half and was then allowed to roam 50 yards forward, only for the moment to get the better of him as he screwed hopelessly wide.
The incisive passing so obvious in Sofia four days earlier was missing, although the introductions of James Milner and Frank Lampard – in a week when so many obituaries have been penned about his international career – could not have helped.
England needed to draw Wales out of their comfort zone.
Downing did it, deceiving Joe Ledley by bursting towards the byline on his weaker right foot before picking out former Aston Villa team-mate Young, who, having escaped the attentions of Ashley Williams, finished clinically at the near post.
Young’s own quick thinking nearly brought a second before the break as from a short corner, he whipped a cross over to Rooney, who failed to get the touch that would have surely taken the ball past Hennessey.
The Wales keeper was called into action with a minute of the second half starting, Neil Taylor helping Hennessey out as he hacked away the loose ball after Young’s near-post effort had been repelled.
As England exerted an increasing amount of pressure, Gareth Bale was a peripheral figure as he tracked Cole’s continued forward bursts.
It did not appear to be the best use of Wales’ dangerman, as obdurate as Speed had made his team everywhere else. He resisted the temptation to swap Bale to the other side, where he would facing 21-year-old Chris Smalling, who was winning only his second cap.
Bale did try his luck from 35 yards, drawing quizzical looks from team-mates and derision from home fans as the shot sailed hopelessly wide.
Gareth Barry set up Lampard after a mazy run but the Chelsea man could not locate the target before Gary Cahill’s shot on the turn flew narrowly over.
It was all rather boring. Until the 75th minute that is.
Bale had just fizzed a long-range free-kick over when he floated a second conceded by Smalling in quick succession to the far post.
Darcy Blake stuck out a boot to divert the ball across the face of goal. As the England defence dissolved, Earnshaw got ready to seize the moment.
Unbelievably, from six yards, with the goal gaping, he sidefooted hopelessly over. On the bench, Speed held his head in his hands. Chances do not come any easier at this level.
Gamely, Wales battled on without looking like equalising, leaving Earnshaw to take a very lonely walk to the visitors’ dressing room at the final whistle.