Birthday boy Soucek helps West Ham to 1-0 win over Wolves as cat kicker Kurt Zouma impresses
Tomas Soucek’s unanswered 59th-minute winner was enough to see dominant yet laborious West Ham over the line against an unconventionally passive and conservative Wolves side.
The 1-0 win over Bruno Lage’s surprise package from the West Midlands moves West Ham up to fifth in the table and only two points adrift of Manchester United as their Champions League dream gathers further pace.
The Hammers have now scored in each of their 14 home games this season, and by doing so, denied Wolves a record seventh win against the same team in the Premier League.
Wolves won nine of their 12 games by a one-goal margin this term and Lage’s men now got a taste of their medicine, losing the 50th fixture between the two sides.
Kurt Zouma was arguably his side’s standout performer with a resolute and astute performance as the much-maligned cat kicker showed his mettle despite the hard times he has been through of late.
Lage decided to leave weary first-team stars Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Rayan Ait-Nouri out of the starting line-up after an energy-draining display against Arsenal in London on Thursday night.
But despite being in control and taking the game to the visitors, the Hammers couldn’t turn possession into goals as a number of clear-cut chances went begging in the first period.
Wolves were too easy to cut through and saw little of the ball in their opponents’ territory and when they did, Zouma was there to put his body on the line and prevent them from scoring.
But the fleet-footed Hammers only had themselves to blame for being level at half-time.
Jarrod Bowen, ponderous and uninspired throughout, did nothing to make an argument for why he should link up with teammate Declan Rice for England.
The game was only five minutes old when ex-Hull City hotshot Bowen failed to get on the end of Aaron Cresswell’s cross despite sticking his foot out.
And 11 minutes later he ran the channels to latch on to Manuel Lanzini’s through ball but the angle worked against him as his cross from near the byline ended in Jose Sa’s arms.
On 23 minutes Cresswell curled his free-kick just wide of the former Olympiacos goalkeeper’s goal before Michail Antonio, whose hold-up play was excellent but end product not so much, headed over from a corner.
And minutes before the hour-mark Sa pulled off a top-drawer save to smother Antonio’s prodded effort as West Ham were left to rue another big chance to take the lead.
Zouma then made a last-ditch sliding tackle to stop Fabio Silva from getting his shot away in the six-yard area, although from a tight angle which Fabianski had covered.
Despite their poor conversion rate, West Ham refused to raise the white flag and Euro 2020 runner-up Rice hit the outside of the post with a thunderbolt on 39 as the tension was rising in the ground.
And the inspired Manuel Lanzini, picked out by Antonio, was unable to properly connect with the ball inside the box as he scuffed his shot wide of Wolves’ goal.
But the Hammers dodged a bullet on the stroke of half-time when Hawng Hee-Chan pounced on a loose ball inside the penalty box only to drive his effort wide.
And after the restart Trincao, who deputised for Daniel Podence, blasted over following a sweet cutback from the South Korea international.
And after surviving two scars, West Ham finally opened the scoring.
Antonio squared for the freshly-turned 27-year-old Soucek to turn home the opener with his outstretched right foot shortly before the hour-mark.
But David Moyes’ mean didn’t rest on their laurels as they wanted the insurance of a second goal.
Incredibly, Wolves started to grow into the game once they trailed.
Zouma was monumental when he blocked what looked like the guests’ equaliser on 63 minutes and moments later Fabio Silva, slid through by Podence, lashed a shot wildly off target from the edge of the box.
Bowen then wasted a clear-cut chance after Pablo Fornals slipped the ball through to him but the England hopeful fired straifght at the advancing Sa before Soucek dragged his effort wide minutes later.
Ruben Neves, who put in an excellent shift on an afternoon to forget for some of his teammates, tried his luck from distance but his strike was too close from Lukasz Fabianski.
West Ham hung on to the head to get all three points and revive their fading Champions League hopes after two draws and two defeats from their last five games.
1 Lukasz Fabianski – 3 Aaron Cresswell- 4 Kurt Zouma- 8 Pablo Fornals- 9 Michail Antonio – 10 Manuel Lanzini- 15 Craig Dawson- 20 Jarrod Bowen- 28 Tomas Soucek- 31 Ben Johnson – 41 Declan Rice
13 Alphonse Benoit- 11 Nikola Vlasic- 16 Mark Noble- 22 Said Benrahma – 23 Issa Diop- 33 Alex Kral- 40 Armstrong Oko-Flex- 42 Ajibola Alese-64 Sonny Perkins
1 Jose Sa- 2 Ki-Jana Hoever- 5 Marcal- 8 Ruben Neves- 11 Francisco Trincao- 16 Conor Coady- 17 Fabio Silva- 23 Maximilian Kilman-26 Hwang Hee-Chan- 27 Romain Saiss- 32 Leander Dendoncker
1 John Ruddy- 3 Rayan Ait-Nouri- 7 Pedro Neto- 9 Raul Jimenez- 10 Daniel Podence- 15 Willy Boly- 19 Jonny- 28 Joao Moutinho- 39 Luke Cundle