West Ham United 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Sunday, 27th February 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham returned to winning ways this weekend, a determined 1-0 victory over Wolves at the London Stadium giving hope that this team won’t let their season fade without fight.A birthday goal for Tomas Soucek was enough to take all three points in what was a massive game in the fight for European football this season. The result puts West Ham into fifth above Arsenal on goal difference, and giving Moyes?EUR(TM) side a five-point gap over Wolves in eighth.
After two draws on the spin, it gives West Ham a vital win ahead of a huge set of fixtures in March.
The manager made two changes from the side that drew with Newcastle, Lanzini returning to the side in place of Benrahma and Ben Johnson coming it at right back to start ahead of Ryan Fredericks.
There was a change in system too, a 3-4-3 that saw Fornals play left wing-back. The Spaniard had looked lost in the role in the reverse fixture earlier on in the season, but produced a fantastic display here. Bowen and Antonio split wide but stayed high and Lanzini was tasked with joining them centrally to defend from the front.
Wolves made five changes after a late defeat to Arsenal on Thursday, with Podence, Jimenez and Moutinho all on the bench.
There was a tension to the game, an air of importance that could be seen in the way the sides played and the feeling exuding from the stands. In the fight for European football, be it top four or otherwise, everyone knew this game could be crucial.
The game started in a perfect balance, both sides having moments of control and building outside the area without really making chances. Bowen was inches away from a lovely Cresswell cross in one moment, and in the next the energetic Fabio Silva was almost through on goal as Dawson headed a ball into the air and the area as the last man. Had Silva not lost where the ball went, he should have been walking into a chance at goal.
The space West Ham were getting most was down the right, Johnson free to cross on a few occasions early on. His delivery wasn?EUR(TM)t quite good enough to find a West Ham player, but it was good to see the young right back trusting in playing the harder ball, rather than turning back to safety.
The home side were happy to sit in when Wolves had the ball and work hard to pounce on loose balls. One such moment led to a dangerous break, Bowen driving through the middle of the Wolves half with Antonio to his right. The forward played the ball far too hard to Antonio and a good opportunity went amiss.
The Hammers were neat on the ball, Lanzini?EUR(TM)s influence so obvious after he was missing last weekend. His presence gives Soucek and Rice a consistent option on the ball and a player always ready to take it on and keep playing moving.
Rice was at times frustratingly safe on the ball, choosing sideways passes when a forward pass was on, but improved as the team settled. The work ethic was most impressive, and the success of the defending they were doing inside the Wolves half and final third seemed to give them confidence across the pitch. As the game went on, many showed signs of returning to form.
Lanzini and Antonio can take great credit in how they defended from the front, something they had done excellently in tandem against Leicester too.
For all of that, as West Ham took control of the half, it often relied on Fornals to try the dangerous pass, the difficult forward ball into the final third. One looping pass over the back saw Johnson fouled and Cresswell flash an effort just wide from 25 yards out.
It was another game in which Antonio was working hard for the team, making space and running the channels in his battle with the three centre backs.
What made it different today is that the striker found a threat on goal. He was another who seemed to catch himself doing good things and take confidence from it. He forced a good save from Sa after receiving in the box and being calm in taking it to open his body up and get the chance on goal. It was a little bit of composure that he has lacked recently. That composure in the box would prove crucial in the second half.
Moments later he was frustrated as a corner looked set to drop to him a few yards from goal, only for Zouma to instinctively flick out a leg to send the ball flying high over the bar. The header back at goal from Soucek was dropping right to the striker, but Zouma had his back to goal and could not know Antonio was there.
At the other end, the Frenchman was imperious challenging Silva in the box when the striker could have scored. He stayed down, screaming in agony. Thankfully, it was a reaction to a knock rather than any ligament damage.
The game had swung in favour of the home side, taking much more control and threatening goal in ways Wolves struggled to do all game. Rice smacked the post from just outside the box after good work down the left by Fornals.
The half ended with late pressure from Wolves, an effort guided just wide from the edge of the box as many feared another gift on the brink of the break from the Hammers, but as the sides went in 0-0, it will have been Wolves happy to get into the changing room. Moyes may have been frustrated that for all their good work, his side had not made it count.
Coming back out for the second half, at the very least West Ham stuck to their decision to defend on the front foot. It really was the highlight of the game in many ways, the daring to step to their opponents, the energy to keep doing it successfully and how well it was executed too.
That said, Wolves started to dominate the ball. They are a team who can take pressure and have the resilience to match some very good ball players.
But whilst they kept the ball, they were kept away from goal. Some will say that?EUR(TM)s how West Ham will have preferred the game to go, with the onus on the away side to create and the home side able to catch them on counters and turnovers.
It wasn?EUR(TM)t quite how it worked out, but it was in Wolves period of dominance that West Ham opened the scoring.
After winning a throw down the left, Cresswell and Fornals combined thanks to a delightful flick by the Spaniard to the left back.
Cresswell, with little space to play in on the left flank, squeezed a ball through and into the area for Antonio. That composure of the first half was key here, letting the ball get ahead of him and moving so as to give him control with his head up looking across the box.
In line with the edge of the six-yard box down the left of the penalty area, he looked up to see Soucek holding his position onside in front of goal. The pass was perfect for the Czech midfielder to poke into the net.
It was a moment where one mistake opened things up. Saiss was with Soucek, before leaving his man in front of goal to go close down Lanzini. His gamble backfired as Soucek scored. Tight games like these can be won and lost on such decisions in defence.
Antonio was full of life, making himself available for passes out of defence and leading counters with his direct running.
At the other end, Fabio Silva had two openings that tested the West Ham defence. Both times it was Kurt Zouma making the block or tackle. Where Wolves had Saiss, West Ham had Zouma. The difference arguably decided the game.
It stayed a tight affair, Wolves keeping the ball and West Ham looking to strike when gaining it back. It had long felt like a game where one goal would be enough, but West Ham should have had a two-goal lead with 25 minutes remaining.
He had had an opportunity blocked by great work off his line by Sa, the goalkeeper beating him to a chipped pass over the back.
West Ham gathered the ball and after a Johnson cross was headed out, Fornals was again brilliant to delay, fake a shot and then make space to roll Bowen in on goal. Coming at the ball from the right, it was perfectly set up for the wide man to place it across goal into the corner, but his finish was too close to Sa and the goalkeeper made a much easier save than should ever have been allowed.
Bowen struggled to get into the game, a little lost in the change to his role, albeit that the system seemed to perfectly balance the left side of the West Ham team but leave a little lacking on the right.
Antonio, on the other hand, was still flying. Another counter led by his work opened Wolves up. Fornals it was again who played the pass forward from the back to start Antonio off, who took it down the left channel and then into the area.
On another day, he could have gone down. He was clipped, but chose to stay on his feet, only for his squared pass across goal to find a Wolves defender.
Moments later, Cresswell was played in down the left of the area by Fornals, and again the ball driven across goal was met by a Wolves defender when any West Ham touch likely scored.
Bruno Lage had turned to his bench, throwing Podence, Neto and Jimenez on in an attempt to rescue game, but the balls into the box never threatened, whilst they often made the wrong choice in little pockets of space on the edge of the area. Any shots that got through were easy for Fabianski.
It felt tense, but the game ended without a real Wolves chance. West Ham had got back to winning ways and found some form to go with the solidity.
It?EUR(TM)s fifth now going into March, two points short of Manchester United and level with Arsenal, even though Arteta?EUR(TM)s side have three games to change that.
David Moyes 8/10
The only criticism is maybe we could have used the substitutes a little earlier, but he stuck to the plan he had tried at Wolves earlier in the season. It helped us counter, and Fornals is the best forward passer in the team so helped us start from deeper. It leaves the right side a bit open, but we played better than we have for most of 2022.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Solid saves and whilst not proactive, he made some very important and emphatic claims on high balls into the box.
A better performance than his 45 minutes last week. Still not producing quite enough with crossing opportunities, but defensively so solid. Passed a bit better and made attempts to dribble down the line, rather than stopping and looking for the safe pass.
Had a good game defensively as he was closer to a third centre back than a left back. Stood up to the task at the back, not putting a foot wrong, and combining well with Fornals, Lanzini and Antonio.
Since the controversy, he?EUR(TM)s been impeccable on the pitch. In every challenge, he came out looking completely assured and in control of play.
One header that could have let Silva in needlessly aside, Dawson was solid and got to defend in the way he likes. Sit him deep and let him defend his area and there?EUR(TM)s few better at the basics.
So unlucky not to score with a belter of an effort. Really good on the front foot defensively, yet also deeper in midfield too as he looked fresher. Got better as the game went on and found his form as the team found theirs.
Quietly efficient in midfield, most notably solid when the side went deep to protect the lead. It appeared he had more freedom to attack today, whether that was the formation or just a shift in midfield responsibilities, but whatever it was, it was vital as he strode in and gave his side the win.
A quietly fantastic performance from Fornals, playing at left wing-back. Made the most tackles (five - 100% completed), played the ball aggressively forward and into the final third too, the only one really trying to make dangerous passes. Seven ball recoveries, took people on, worked up and down the line all game and his clever flick helped make space in the move for the goal.
Neat and tidy, as he always is, and he makes the midfield so much better. Where he gets highest marks is how fantastic he was off the ball, a key part of a very successful press from West Ham.
Didn?EUR(TM)t really find his way into the game enough compared to the others in attack. Missed a very big chance that would have secured the game.
With Bowen on the periphery, West Ham needed Antonio. As these pages have said, the criticism of his game recently has been over the top, and today he did much of the same things. All he added was a goal threat, but the workrate remained and the willingness had never faltered.
(Replaced Antonio, 90) Just on for late energy.
(Replaced Fornals, 90) Did make one big tackle that was very enjoyable.
Did not play.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Craig Dawson, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Tomas Soucek 58 .
Booked: Michail Antonio 82 .
Sent off: None.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Sa, Kilman, Coady, Saiss, Hoever, Dendoncker, Neves, Marcal (Neto 76), Trincao (Podence 60), Fabio Silva, Hwang (Jimenez 81).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Ait-Nouri, Jonny, Boly, Moutinho, Cundle.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the Match: Kurt Zouma.