The day after Premier League football was suspended in March, Karren Brady called for the season to be made null and void. It was easy to see why during Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 2-0 victory over West Ham United at the London Stadium. Even though David Moyes’s team began the restarted campaign one place above the relegation zone, the threat of the drop is very real. West Ham’s vice-chairman knew three months ago that her club were barely equipped to cope with the final eight games of the season.
Wolves, on the other hand, were sluggish but still showed flashes of class. Fifth place could guarantee Champions League football if Manchester City’s two year ban by Uefa is upheld but even the top four is possible for Wolves.
A drab game was settled by superb double substitution by Nuno Espírito Santo. Just after the hour, the Wolves manager introduced Adama Traore and Pedro Neto into the game. Both had a huge impact.
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In the 73rd minute Traore produced a burst of acceleration, went past two West Ham players and delivered a cross that Raul Jimenez eagerly nodded into the net. Neto had an even more spectacular impact 11 minutes later, slamming home a splendid volley to seal the game.
Moyes has saved the Hammers from relegation before and his reputation as a firefighter will be enhanced if he keeps this team up. An injury crisis has not helped the Scot but there were spells in the game when Wolves looked a division apart.
The visitors imposed themselves on the game from the kickoff and West Ham struggled to get hold of the ball in the opening exchanges. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez gave the home defence some uncomfortable moments. They forced a series of corners and half-chances while West Ham chased about aimlessly.
Even so, the first real opportunity fell to West Ham. Mark Noble chipped a pass from inside his own half beyond the Wolves defence and Pablo Fornals ran free inside the area. The ball sat up nicely and the Spaniard had time to get his balance right but instead snatched at his effort and sent the shot ballooning high. West Ham cannot afford such profligacy.
The attempt at least gave the injury-hit home side a little confidence. They began to push their back line a little higher and at least got some possession in the opposition’s half. Tomas Soucek shot from distance after an interchange of passing on the right and West Ham began to grow into the game.
Moyes’s makeshift attack of Jarrod Bowen, Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio struggled to drag the Wolves defence out of shape but Jeremy Ngakia showed positive signs down the right, sending in one cross that turned the back four around and left them scrambling to clear.
Despite this, Wolves looked the likelier side to score in a goalless first half. Jota shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski and the Portuguese was consistently allowed too much space.
Wolves were nowhere near their best but they gave the impression that they could step up a gear at any moment. West Ham were largely stuck in neutral. Noble remains the main presence in the midfield and although the 33-year-old has many admirable qualities he needs a team-mate with more creative quality to step up and take responsibility. Ngakia showed signs of promise and the 19-year-old had the confidence to shoot from range early in the second half but right backs are not what Moyes needs and the effort was straight at Rui Patricio.
Jota and Jimenez looked slightly out of sync in the second period. By the hour mark the visiting side began to look a little stale. To counter this, Santos introduced Traore and Neto.
Moyes does not have as many options but the West Ham manager made a substitution with similar attacking intent by bring on Manuel Lanzini shortly after.
The Wolves substitutes made the difference, though. Traore pounced on a loose ball on the right, blew past Fornals and Aaron Creswell and delivered an exquisite cross into the six-yard box. Jimenez was unmarked and it was the most simple of tasks to head the ball into the net.
Antonio tried to rouse West Ham with a rugged dribble that ended with a powerful shot that skimmed just over bar but Neto killed the game moments later.
Traore picked up possession in the inside right position, rolled the ball out to Matt Doherty and the full back sent in another excellent cross. Neto, waiting in the area, produced a wonderful volley that left Fabianski with no chance.
Wolves are looking upward with confidence. West Ham dare not peek behind them. Fear is growing in east London.