West Ham responded to the FA Cup debacle of the weekend with an insipid and limp display at Wolves that saw them thoroughly beaten.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men had a chance to put the past behind them relatively quickly and win over angry fans with a performance of renewed vigour. Instead they produced their poorest display of the Premier League season.
Three second half goals gave Wolves a deserved win in a game they controlled throughout.
The first half was not action packed. The return of Declan Rice to the West Ham midfield gave the Irons better control and solidity in the middle of the park, whilst the return of Lukasz Fabianski, on his 200th Premier League appearance, appeared to add more confidence to the defence - although they will have been as concerned as anyone by the goalkeeper’s second half throw that could have ended in his own net.
Returns too for Zabaleta, Anderson and Marko Arnautovic, who of course told us he’d be back, gave the side a much better look, although both Cresswell and Nasri didn’t make the squad.
20 minutes of calm slowly turned to a half that was dominated by Wolves.
The home side focused their attacks down their right, which meant the continuance of the Arthur Masuaku approach to defending was given a thorough going over after the weekend’s FA Cup monstrosity.
And for the second game in a row, the left back was lucky to not give away a penalty. This time, Doherty had driven into the box and Masuaku got the wrong side. His foot dangled between Doherty’s legs, and the right wing-back was frustrated not to see a penalty awarded for what seemed a clear trip.
Doherty threatened all half. The ball gravitated to that right side of the Wolves attack over and over, often finding Doherty in space. The Irishman was finding players with his passes too, a delightful cross under very little pressure gave Dendoncker a chance to volley an effort towards goal having drifted into the area unattended. His effort was weak, but West Ham were warned.
It was a warning they did not heed, Anderson leaving Masuaku outnumbered on half hour as Raul Jimenez drifted to the wing. His cross, again unimpeded, picked out Jonny beautifully in the area. Luckily for West Ham, his diving header was guided wide from close range.
West Ham were failing to contain the Wolves threat, Diogo Jota drifting between lines without much interruption and Doherty able to play as a right winger. Antonio was left leading the line up top, not really getting the best out of him or his strike partner Arnautovic.
With control completely in the home side’s hands, they thought they had taken the lead. A cross into Raul Jimenez rebounded out to Dendoncker, who knocked an easy chance into the net. Thankfully for Pellegrini’s side, Jimenez was offside from the original effort.
The half remained in Wolves’ control, but with little of note. Drifting to half time, a deflected shot fell to the roaming Doherty in the area, whose driven shot at goal was saved comfortably by Fabianski.
West Ham survived with a 0-0 and into a second half where they needed to improve.
The second half started much like the first. West Ham looked in the game, more settled starting this half than they had ended the first.
But like the first half, they didn’t really create anything. And that applies to the whole game, where Rui Patricio had a very easy game in the Wolves goal.
Whereas in the first half Wolves didn’t punish West Ham, the second half was a different story.
Again, a level opening gave way to Wolves control. Chances began to flow, starting with a Jota volley saved by Fabianski. From the corner, the ball was not cleared well, coming back to find Romain Saiss behind the defence and forcing a good save from a half volley.
West Ham were offering nothing, barely keeping the ball in attack, yet managing to be counter attacked whenever they did. Wolves were able to build in sudden bursts or with sustained pressure.
And then Wolves scored. Having had half a chance from a long ball upfield, a Jonny effort saved by Fabianski after the West Ham defence let the ball bounce, the resulting corner looked nothing but a training ground exercise for Wolves.
Romain Saiss again was given space, but this time only 8 yards from goal and with a free header. This time, he found the back of the net, Fabianski given no chance. It was all Wolves deserved for their control of the game.
Carroll and Obiang were thrown on, not that they made a noticeable impact.
Zabaleta survived a penalty shout, actually the result of some wonderful defending by the Argentine, but up the pitch, Marko Arnautovic was struggling. New contracts do many things, but they seemed unable to help the Austrian put any weight on his foot.
The game continued, and as Hernandez prepared to come on, Wolves got in behind again. This time, the damage was done to the goalkeeper, not the goal.
Matt Doherty slid for a ball teased in front of him by Raul Jimenez, but instead drove his studs into a brave dive from Fabianski. Quite why these are still allowed - the excuse that he “had to go for it” - without punishment is questionable, but after a nervous 5 minutes, Fabianski, wounded and in discomfort, carried on. Hernandez replaced Arnie, and soon 2-0 replaced 1-0.
Again it was a set piece, again marking was weak. A cross from the Wolves left floated into the middle of the area. Jimenez was a step ahead of Rice the second it was taken, attacking the ball with enough ease to guide a volley with the outside of his boot beyond Fabianski, who again had no chance.
West Ham were lifeless, lacking ideas and seemingly lacking motivation. If this was their response to embarrassment at Wimbledon, you’d forgive West Ham fans for packing up and saving their money for the rest of the year. 80 minutes had gone, it was 2-0 and West Ham had not had a shot on target. They wouldn’t even get that as the game wore on.
What they got was more deserved punishment. If Pellegrini was ashamed on Saturday night, one can only hope he was apoplectic this evening.
With the side flooding forward, yet equally achieving nothing for the extra numbers, Wolves broke away once more.
Moutinho, excellent in possession all evening, again picked out a great forward pass. It was one that gave Jota space and time. He had Jimenez for company as they ran towards goal, and only Diop to defend the pair of them. He was easy to cut out of the move, the pass to Jimenez in the area giving the Mexican striker a chance to dink one over an onrushing Fabianski and give Wolves a 3-0 win.
This was worse than Wimbledon for West Ham. This wasn’t a one off, this wasn’t being shocked by the work ethic and energy of a lower league side in a hostile atmosphere.
This was a game where a reaction was needed, where players rested for the easier game were to show why they deserved that rest as we crashed out of the cup. This was the fixture too important to risk Rice for, risk an Anderson start, that Arnautovic missed for his film class.
And West Ham were awful.
Lucasz Fabianski (6) Not at fault for any of the goals, brave as can be to stop Doherty, made some good saves. Hard to give above a 6 when conceding three goals. Easily the best in West Ham colours.
Pablo Zabaleta (5) Didn’t get a lot wrong, excellent intervention saved a certain goal, but part of a shocking defence and offered nothing going forward.
Arthur Masuaku (4) He was often left exposed, but dealt with nothing in a good way.
Issa Diop (4) Bettered by Jimenez and Jota all game. Little he could do for the last goal, but he didn’t make it harder either.
Angelo Ogbonna (4) The left side was all at sea today. Not wildly bad, but not good.
Declan Rice (5) A couple interceptions, but Jota was able to play in between midfield and defence far too easily and Rice is usually patrolling in there.
Mark Noble (4) Didn’t influence the game, although the manager’s selection made it hard in midfield.
Felipe Anderson (4) As bad a performance as he’s had for some time. Didn’t influence the game, didn’t work back defensively. Didn’t do anything. Looked like his early season performances.
Robert Snodgrass (4) When he’s an auxiliary central midfielder, his workrate and tenacity is useful. But he is not an effective attacking wide player any longer. 4-4-2 doesn’t help him.
Michail Antonio (5) He does try, and he is working hard up front. Cumbersome as ever, we had no shots on target - doesn’t suggest our two forwards are getting much praise.
Marko Arnautovic (4) Anonymous. He’s going to be need to be a lot better a lot sooner if he wants the fans to ignore what others are saying and concentrate on the football. Has to lead the line, he’s not as a good when he plays deep, even if he thinks he is.
Andy Carroll (4) (Replaced Snodgrass) Had no effect on the game whatsoever.
Pedro Obiang (5) (Replaced Noble) Mainy for a couple of good sliding tackles and a shot that, if not blocked by our own player, was the best we’d had all night.
Javier Hernandez (4) (Replaced Arnautovic) Looked close to coming on in goal, where at least he’d have touched the ball picking it out of the net. Valencia can have him.
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo (0) Did not play.
Pablo Zabaleta (0) Did not play.
West Ham United: Lucasz Fabianski, Pablo Zabaleta, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass, Michail Antonio, Marko Arnautovic.
Substitutes: Andy Carroll, Pedro Obiang , Javier Hernandez , Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Pablo Zabaleta.
Booked: Robert Snodgrass 0
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Patricio, Bennett, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho (Gibbs-White 89), Jonny (Vinagre 90), Diogo Jota (Traore 89), Jimenez.
Subs not used: Ruddy, Cavaleiro, Costa, Kilman.
Goals: Saiss (66), Raul Jimenez (80, 86)
Booked: Bennett, Saiss, Neves, Jimenez
Referee: David Coote
Man of the Match: Lucasz Fabianski