Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-3 West Ham United
Monday, 5th April 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
It was a thrilling first half and an anxious second as West Ham held on to a 3-2 lead at Molineux Stadium on Easter Monday and beat Wolves to push themselves back into the top four for the first time in five weeks.The Hammers raced into another 3-0 first half lead, but a goal just before half-time for the hosts turned the momentum, and West Ham were left desperately defending as time ticked away slowly.
The effort was worth it this time, and rather than the capitulation against Arsenal, the side held on to take three valuable points.
All the good news cannot hide the bad, with Antonio limping off in the opening 45 minutes, and all of Soucek, Lingard and Cresswell struggling to finish the match with knocks, pulls and strains possibly stretching this thin squad even further.
This compounded the early news of a significant Rice injury, causing a quite unsurprising breakout of gloom and doom through the fanbase all day. The captain was in to take his place, Noble coming back into the side as well as returns for Fornals and Masuaku, Moyes returning the side to the five-man backline that helped conquer Wolves earlier in the season.
It gave the side added pace but also looked cautious. However, those who predicted a dull affair were soon backtracking whilst watching an end-to-end first half with four goals.
Wolves started the game on the front foot and could have led inside two minutes, Willain Jose turning Dawson easily in the area before blasting wide. The January signing has failed to convince in Raul Jimenez?EUR(TM)s absence and has yet to score for the club, only exacerbating the chasm that has been left by the Mexican striker?EUR(TM)s unfortunate head injury.
That narrative continued throughout, with Wolves toothless in front of goal on many occasions, even allowing for the two they did score.
At the other end, the break looked to have come at the right time for the likes of Fornals, Masuaku and Antonio, all of whom played with energy and verve that seemed to absolute terrify their opponents. On top of that was the jewel in the crown, Jesse Lingard back from international duty with even further swagger to his game.
Antonio hit the post early, beating two before hammering from distance, his shot tipped onto the post. It was a sign of things to come as Coady and cohorts could not deal with his and Lingard?EUR(TM)s movement at pace. Soon that was all the more clear as the loanee attacker scored a goal of quite sumptuous brilliance.
Coufal defended well on his own before a quick pass to Fornals was returned back to him by a quite frankly ridiculous back-heeled volley by the Spaniard. The right-back passed quickly to Lingard inside his own half and then could only watch as the forward scored a majestic individual goal.
With the ball at his feet, six minutes on the clock and the confidence at his back, Lingard drove at the defenders and just kept going as they backed off or faded away. He had only Antonio in front of him, and the striker deserves credit for the run that took the attention of two or three defenders and, most importantly, opened up a huge space for the man of the moment to float by the defenders and then dink the finish into the corner as Rui Patricio came out low.
Any fear the Wolves defenders had was only multiplied further, and it allowed Lingard a license to run at them again and again as they backed off. He was soon involved again as the Hammers went 2-0 up.
This time he was chasing down the channels, keeping the ball in from a Cresswell pass and spinning the defender on the byline with a turn reminiscent of Dimitar Berbatov toying with James Collins many years ago. Lingard?EUR(TM)s touch was looser, but it was the pace of Masuaku that got to the ball first, passing it across to Fornals in the air.
The Spaniard allowed the bobbling ball to dribble across him as he opened his body up and, from the left side of the area, side-footed it with his right foot across the goal and into the far corner. A fantastic finish by a man oft-criticised for being wasteful around goal.
The Irons were in full flow, brimming with confidence and looking much like the side who spent half an hour teaching Arsenal how to play football in the previous outing.
Just like that game, their opponents were still alive and kicking when behind. Things were truly end-to-end, Wolves soon hitting the bar from a Podence header, but the next minute seeing Antonio miss a good chance with a weak header in the area. Next it was Wolves once more heading wide, the warnings always there. Frankly, Wolves were arguably the more dominant side in the first half, but one without any reward.
West Ham on the other hand were seeing almost everything work in the final third, and getting lucky in their own. Even Mark Noble, written off by many, was sprinting back to cover on the counter.
As such, the life of a West Ham fan prepares you for what is soon about to go wrong. Suddenly Antonio was only at walking pace, even though he found life to fight through three defenders for a shot. His hand went up immediately and the hamstring was held by the other. The physios came on, but could not keep Antonio playing, Bowen coming on around the half hour mark.
Whilst fears of the long term came to mind, the short term had its own worries. Those worries looked foolish not long after. Once again, Jesse Lingard was in the Wolves?EUR(TM) half and causing problems. As the defence focused on him, Bowen had made a run beyond and was soon in behind as the pass was played through.
What he did well was take it early, the ball not even reaching the penalty area before he struck low and hard to the near post. It was close to Patricio, but the early take at such power was enough to beat the goalkeeper.
It was the impact of Lingard that had really taken Moyes?EUR(TM)s side to a big lead, but Wolves were never out of the game. The finishing, however, looked nowhere near the standard of everything else the side could do. This was never clearer than a double chance missed minutes after the third goal.
First Willian Jose missed a clear shot from six yards, only for Neto to punt the rebound high and wide from even closer with the goalkeeper down from his prior save.
Frustration building, it was starting to look like one of those nights, but West Ham and three goal leads have their own story too. The goal just before half time was part of the script and Wolves duly delivered.
Adama Traore can take the credit, he too dribbling from inside his own half to create a goal. He went down the left, squared up to three defenders and burst beyond them before hitting the byline, crossing the ball and watching on with glee as Dendoncker rose to power in the header and give his side a lifeline.
They went in with momentum, a 3-1 scoreline looking much the more positive thanks to that late goal. The West Ham manager would have been furious to see his side concede again from such a strong position, and it dictated the way the second 45 was played.
The first may have been free flowing and end-to-end, but the second would never be allowed, such is the fragility of that defence at the moment.
West Ham went back to basics, really hammering home that it was a five-man defence rather than a 3-4-3. Bowen was lost up front, Lingard tired and a shadow of his first half performance.
The ball came back time and time again as soon West Ham?EUR(TM)s composure dropped and their energy went with it. The only one who seemed able to pass a ball was Noble, but his legs do not get him into the thick of things like they used to. Still, it is worth noting he had the most passes of any West Ham player, showing the side?EUR(TM)s trust in him and his continued ability to make himself available for the pass.
What they did do was slow down on the ball. It stopped them creating, but they kept their defensive shape and often had a spare man. The one time they didn?EUR(TM)t, Wolves scored.
Equally, they seemed weaker than Wolves physically, not winning second balls and bouncing off more determined opponents. The time they did get to the most important loose ball, Soucek reacting to a rebound first to poke home, the deflection onto his arm saw his goal ruled out. It was a brief respite in a torrid half.
Johnson replaced Masuaku, but the side was still struggling. They seemed slower, with less energy and disorganised too. Never was that more evident than as Wolves equalised.
Neto?EUR(TM)s assist was brilliant, the winger picking it up centrally, running towards his own goal before turning and firing a pass through to Fabio Silva. The young forward took the ball into his stride and hammered it across goal from right to left. Fabianski maybe could have done better, but the power of the shot took it beyond him quickly.
The problem was how he had got the space in the first place. Neto had had it too easy in the pass, but there was clear confusion as to who was tracking Silva. Diop was pointing and gesturing for someone to follow him before the pass was played, and it is hard to know why the right-sided centre back of a back three was chasing the forward down the left.
Regardless, it was a side who were just desperate for the game to finish. Were they up against a side with a real striker, with Raul Jimenez, maybe they would have been punished. But Wolves created little else with the twenty minutes remaining, and whilst it was uncomfortable for any Hammer to watch, the pressure was never turned into chances.
As such, the away side held on and claimed their first league double over Wolves for 98 years. Most importantly, it put the side ahead of Chelsea and back into the top four. What side they will be able to put out next week against Leicester remains to be seen, but at least it was good for Fornals and Masauku to get time in their legs on return from fitness, the pressure on Leicester too that defeat puts us a point behind them in third.
The week will be spent waiting, waiting on news of Rice, on Antonio, and on the likes of Lingard, Cresswell and Soucek too. But it?EUR(TM)s a week waiting on those players because European football is still there for the taking, and West Ham are still in contention.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Some good saves but he sat on his line for a few looping balls when the defence needed help. And he could have done possibly done better for the second.
He?EUR(TM)s less natural at wing back than full back, and he ends up playing both roles due to how the defence is shaped, so it?EUR(TM)s spectacular to think he bossed that side so well again. The first goal came from his side, but arguably he dealt with Traore much better without help and that time was three players beaten. He gets on the ball a lot and is always solid.
Not a game you would really notice Cresswell, with the odd good cross not used well, but also the gap left on the first goal that was exactly where you would expect him to be. Johnson had come on a minute earlier, and you have to wonder whether miscommunication of that left side was a problem.
Faded as it went on, but he looked like he hadn?EUR(TM)t missed a step and was involved in the better passing play early on. His return at this moment is huge as players struggle with tiredness and others to injury. His pace and his footwork relieve a lot of pressure and also add a facet to the attacking play. Where the balance can be found will be interesting, whether a back five remains for the rest of the season or not.
Won a good amount of headers but he didn?EUR(TM)t seem to have the control of his other defenders that Ogbonna would. He needs to lead, especially with Diop, and I am not sure he has been.
Better aerially than early in the season, which has been notable since his return. But still moments where he follows a man into spaces he doesn?EUR(TM)t need to go or loses position when a smarter defender doesn?EUR(TM)t. He?EUR(TM)s not the liability some label him as, but he does allow more to attackers than Ogbonna or Dawson does.
He doesn?EUR(TM)t dominate a midfield, he doesn?EUR(TM)t quite get to things he used to, but he does always show for the ball, does not panic in the way some of the less experienced players do and will scrap to the end. Whilst we talk of his play on the ball, he made more interceptions than anyone on the pitch, as many tackles as any West Ham player and covered early counter attacks well.
Didn?EUR(TM)t look quite as comfortable in his game without Rice, which would make sense as he and Noble are slower players and more onus was on Soucek to take the ball out of defence. He had a goal disallowed and created a big chance for Antonio, but was not great under pressure in his own half on the ball.
A wonderful finish and he showed the energy and intelligence that was lacking in the side without him. But the finish was something else, a man criticised for his finishing took that chance and made it look so simple when it was anything but. The technique was spectacular. Faded as it went on, his first game back from injury, but a good start to his end of the season.
As poor as he was second half, and he was, the first half was blistering, sensational and any other superlative you have to hand. The direct running, the dribbling at pace, the way he finished chances, set chances up, beat players. It was everything the Lionel Jesse memes are about, such was his brilliance in the first half. The goal was superb, he made the second and got the assist on the third.
One big miss aside, it really looked like the international break had come at a good time. He seemed faster, fitter and in command of his game. His run to open space for Lingard on the first goal was perfect movement. He was beating players, bullying defenders and causing problems. If he had stayed on and fit, that game does not turn in Wolves?EUR(TM) favour. But those hamstrings seem liable to go any minute, making a mockery of the winter window and no striker.
(Replaced Antonio, 34) He looked lost as a striker in the second half, although his side did him no favours, but the finish on the first was brilliant. Patricio should have saved it, but it was the way he took it early and with such power that earned the goal. Worked hard after that but isn?EUR(TM)t a striker.
(Replaced Masuaku, 67) Looked lost in his position for a good 5-10 minutes after his introduction. Did his job after that but he doesn?EUR(TM)t have the ability of Masuaku to beat players and relieve pressure.
(Replaced Fornals, 78) He did nothing for about 10 minutes, but should get credit for wasting time in the corner and being hard to get a hold of.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Mark Noble, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jesse Lingard, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Jesse Lingard 6 Pablo Fornals 14 Jarrod Bowen 38 .
Booked: Craig Dawson 5 Issa Diop 10 Tomas Soucek 91 Jesse Lingard 93 .
Sent off: None.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Patricio, Semedo, Coady, Sa?ss, A?t-Nouri (Hoever 90), Dendoncker, Neves, Neto, Podence (Silva 46), Traore, Willian Jose (Vitinha 72).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Gibbs-White, Kilman, Otasowie, Marques, Richards.
Goals: Dendoncker (44), Silva (68).
Booked: Neves (85).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Jesse Lingard.