There was no need for David Moyes to hide behind the sofa. Forced to self-isolate after testing positive for covid-19 last week, West Ham’s manager settled down and watched his players lift their troubled club’s mood, crushing Wolves with a performance built on tactical nous and no little skill.
It was typical West Ham to stir just when storm clouds were gathering. Ever perverse, they earned their first win of the season after a week which would have been dominated for covid chaos but for their co-owner, David Sullivan, going on radio to warn that there might be no signings before the transfer window shuts next Monday.
Sullivan had complained that he was ‚“getting more depressed”‚ every day. Supporters are restless and civil war is brewing. Moyes and two of his players, Issa Diop and Josh Cullen, were in quarantine. In defiance of most predictions, though, West Ham were outstanding against opponents who usually dismiss them with ease.
Although the unrest off the pitch is unlikely to subside any time soon, West Ham hardly played like a team destined for the drop in the opening period. They were aggressive and purposeful on and off the ball, just as they were in last weekend’s unfortunate defeat to Arsenal, and gave Wolves countless problems at the back with their invention and strength in attack.
The opening 45 minutes served as proof that West Ham are far from a lost cause under Moyes, who is entitled to argue that he is capable of building a solid team if he receives backing from his bosses. Angelo Ogbonna dominated in central defence, keeping Raul Jiménez quiet. Arthur Masuaku worked with Aaron Cresswell to quell Adama Traoré’s threat on the right. Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice overpowered Ruben Neves and Joâo Moutinho in midfield and West Ham were dangerous in the final third, threatening whenever Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen were able to support Michail Antonio.
With Alan Irvine deputising for Moyes on the touchline, West Ham took a deserved lead thanks to a piece of quick thinking from Pablo Fornals in the 17th minute. While everyone else was distracted after Willy Boly’s foul on Antonio near the halfway line, Fornals was alert enough to take a quick free-kick and cut Wolves open by finding Bowen on the right. Wolves were exposed and although Romain Saïss’s teammates urged him to stop Bowen from cutting inside, the defender was powerless as the winger shifted the ball on to his left foot, opened up his body and shaped a beautiful shot into the far corner, leaving Rui Patrício with no chance.
It was West Ham’s first goal against Wolves in five attempts and they had chances to extend their lead before the break. Antonio, leading the line with typical unselfishness, went close after a driving run and Soucek forced Patrício to make two pointblank saves after speedy wing from the hosts.
Part of the challenge for Moyes, who was in communication with his coaching staff from home, has been finding a way to cover up his side’s weaknesses in the full-back positions. The switch to a back three gives West Ham balance and they should have doubled their lead when Patrício pushed out another shot from Antonio, only for Fornals to spoon the rebound over.
Wolves, who gave a debut to Nelson Semedo at right wing-back, have rarely looked so vulnerable at the back. They were ponderous in possession – the absence of Daniel Podence in attack hurt them – and created little, though they delivered a warning when Neves tested Lukasz Fabianski.
There was a reminder of West Ham’s fragility when Ryan Fredericks limped off at the start of the second half, with Ben Johnson coming on at right wing-back. As Irvine said before the game, the squad remains light in certain areas. Failing to strengthen before the window shuts would be a risk.
Yet West Ham were determined to keep the focus on the positives. They were disciplined when they had to defend, giving Wolves no space in the decisive areas, and potent when they countered in the 57th minute.
Antonio, ever the willing outlet, reached a long ball down the left and found Fornals. The Spaniard’s low shot from 20 yards struck a post and fell to Bowen, who tapped into the empty net.
It was a measure of West Ham’s excellence that Wolves hooked Traoré in the 62nd minute. They pulled clear when Soucek’s glance from Cresswell’s corner flicked in off Jiménez and finished the rout in stoppage time, Sebastien Haller heading in Masuaku’s cross after coming off the bench.