Brisk Hammers on cruise control as Wolves lack bite
West Ham 4 Wolves 0
Julian Taylor at London Stadium
West Ham’s Premier League season is finally and officially underway with what was a superb victory over Wolves.
A double from Jarrod Bowen and headers by Tomas Soucek and Sebastien Haller to seal matters, will be a real tonic for manager David Moyes as he recovers from the effects of Covid-19.
Concerns had been growing among the Hammers’ rank-and-file ahead of what should have been a difficult task against big-spending Wolves, after luckless defeats against Newcastle United and Arsenal. However, Carabao Cup victories of late – albeit against lower ranking opponents in Charlton and Hull City - appear to have imbued some all round self-belief into the squad. That Wolves were a shadow of their normal effervescent selves certainly helped as well.
Despite his cup scoring feats in midweek, there was no place in the starting line-up for £40m striker Haller or Andriy Yarmolenko and veteran Hammer Mark Noble was another who had to settle for a place on the bench. This may have been something of a surprise but Moyes was ultimately vindicated.
The return of captain Declan Rice was, theoretically, a welcome boost as the east London side, chasing that elusive first league win; all the more important considering they have an extremely difficult sequence of fixtures coming up, against Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and champions Liverpool.
Moyes was still self-isolating due to his recent diagnosis and remotely relaying team instructions to his assistant Alan Irvine. And clearly there was no communication confusion as West Ham were in full control, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically nervous Wolves side.
Following what was a pretty evenly contested start, the Hammers began to favourably inch into proceedings – and they earned a fine reward in the 17th minute, all thanks to Bowen. With Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss not getting close enough to the threat, the former Hull City man ran confidently into the penalty area, before curling a lovely left foot shot into the far corner of the net.
The hosts were impressively adept in countering Wolves’ famed counter-attacking prowess and could indeed have added a second before the half hour mark, only for visiting keeper Rui Patricio to deny shots by both Michail Antonio and Soucek. Wolves were slow to add any tangible threat and a 27th minute Pedro Neto effort went a couple of yards wide was their first real attempt.
Patricio was finding himself fully occupied - and the Portuguese made another smart save, this time from a Soucek header as Wolves struggled to clear the danger originally instigated by Antonio on the left.
The Hammers’ organisation was particularly positive, getting plenty of players back when called upon, while breaking forward and putting Nuno Santo’s outfit under sustained pressure. A couple of minutes before the interval it really should have been 2-0, but for Pablo Fornals to blaze over when Partricio parried an Antonio angled shot into his path. A huge chance, and one which West Ham would have deserved at that point.
Slipshod Wolves simply could not find any rhythm and lacked their normal, finer touches across the field; perhaps their last outing, a 3-1 home defeat was playing on the team’s collective mindset. However, with just the single goal advantage, West Ham could ill-afford any lapses in concentration themselves.
Fortunately for Moyes’ men, the wait to double the lead arrived in 55 minutes, following a well-constructed move.
Antonio did superbly to fashion space for himself to cut the ball back across the edge of Wolves’ penalty area. Somehow, the ball arrived at the feet of Fornals who drove a shot goal ward - and luck was on the side of Bowen who was sufficiently alert to cash in via the woodwork.
Their confidence now growing, Soucek – an impressive figure throughout – added the third in the 66th minute. The Czech international headed home from a low slung corner by Aaron Cresswell. It was an unfortunate sign of the paucity of Raul Jiminez’s night that he managed to add the faintest of touches to Soucek’s intervention.
The comfort of a three goal lead established, much of the remainder of the clash was a story of Wolves labouring gingerly in their attempts to at least grab a consolation – but Hammers’ keeper Lukas Fabianski was rarely stretched. Three was even time for goal number four, to augment the Hammers' positive vibes. Late substitute Haller nodded the fourth from close range - simplicity itself - from Arthur Masuaku's cross.
The solid manner of this victory could now prove to be quite the springboard for West Ham, ahead of a busy, demanding schedule.
West Ham United: Fabianski, Cresswell, Balbuena, Fornals, Bowen (Noble 87), Ogbonna, Fredericks (Johnson 48), Masuaku, Soucek, Antonio (Haller 87), Rice