Premier League: West Ham United 0 Wolves 2
PUBLISHED: 19:50 20 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 June 2020
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Project Restart left the Hammers feeling as empty as London Stadium, where two clinical second-half strikes from Wolves left David Moyes side hovering above the dreaded drop-zone on goal difference alone.
Following a blank opening period, the telling introduction of Adama Traoré from the bench proved the catalyst for Raúl Jiménez to head Wanderers ahead on 73 minutes before fellow substitute Pedro Neto sealed victory with a stunning late volley to leave West Ham in deep, deep trouble with just eight games left to play.
These two sides should have met 98 days ago in front of a solid, 60,000-strong throng of supporters, but the catastrophic curse of coronavirus that has swept the globe claiming some half-a-million lives meant that, 14 weeks on, this contest was played out in an eerie, East End atmosphere.
Football’s return has been a long time coming and there was much to catch up on before kick-off as a rendition of ‘Bubbles’ by East Ham-born Dame Vera Lynn – who sadly passed away, aged 103, on Thursday – echoed around London Stadium before a minute’s silence was held for those who have tragically lost their lives in the cruel pandemic.
And with a firm eye on events that have unfolded over in the United States in recent weeks, both sets of players – sporting the ‘Black Lives Matter’ rallying cry on their shirts in substitution of their names as well as the NHS logo – took the knee before the first tentative steps towards that long-awaited return to normality were carefully trod by each team.
Crucial late, late goals for Watford and Brighton & Hove Albion earlier in the day meant the Hammers kicked off in 17th spot, 10 places and 16 points below Wolves and with Moyes making two changes from the side that had lost at Arsenal last time out – fit-again Tomáš Souček and Felipe Anderson coming in for injured duo, Angelo Ogbonna and Sébastien Haller – the Scot asked Declan Rice to partner Issa Diop in central defence.
Certainly, the seven-cap England defender soon found himself coming under pressure as the visitors forced four corners inside the opening quarter of an hour but with young full-back Jeremy Ngakia also finding freedom of his own down the right, it was West Ham who fired the first shots in anger as the hosts countered with pace and purpose.
On 13 minutes, Mark Noble’s perfectly-weighted pass sent Pablo Fornals racing clear behind the advancing Black & Gold defence but the Spaniard wastefully fired high over from just a dozen or so yards with just Rui Patrício to beat, before Souček let fly with a scorching 20-yarder that deflected off Conor Coady to the relief of the veteran Portuguese keeper.
Wolves had also made a couple of switches from the team that drew with Olympiakos in their Europa League last-16 tie just before shutdown as substitutes Traoré and Rúben Vinagre stood down for Leander Dendoncker and fit-again Jonny Otto, who carved out a couple of opportunities for dancing, darting Diogo Jota but the Portuguese striker saw his two low shots confidently held by Łukasz Fabiański as it remained goalless at the break.
Just after the restart the lively Ngakia got himself to within 20 yards of the Wolves goal but Patricio got down to save the teenager’s shot and, when Anderson attempted to flee upfield as the hour mark approached, the 121-times capped João Moutinho was booked for a cynical trip on the Brazilian.
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Shortly afterwards, the ever-willing Michail Antonio also saw yellow for a frustrated lunge on Romain Saïss as the Hammer desperately tried to get things moving for his side, before Traoré and Neto replaced Dendoncker and Jota, while Manuel Lanzini came on for Anderson in the first round of substitutions.
With pace to burn, Traorê was always going to be a threat and, sure enough, after Jarrod Bowen was defiantly denied by the sliding Saïss, the Wolves substitute made such a telling impact when he burst down the right flank with just 17 minutes remaining.
After outpacing compatriot Fornals, Traoré drew Aaron Cresswell before crossing into the six-yard box, where Jiménez got behind Diop to plant a firm header past the helplessly-exposed Fabiański to claim his 23rd goal of the campaign.
In reply, Antonio rattled the stanchion with an opportunist 25-yarder before Moyes introduced Andriy Yarmolenko and Ryan Fredericks as Ngakia and Fornals retired.
But it was those Wolves substitutes who would have the final word as on 84 minutes, Traoré powered and probed his way into the heart of the Hammers defence before finding the overlapping Matt Doherty, whose deep right-wing cross was met by Neto’s unstoppable, eight-yard, angled volley.
It cemented a Wolves victory that leaves Moyes boys in deep trouble ahead of Tuesday evening’s trip across town to Tottenham Hotspur.
West Ham: Fabiański, Ngakia (Fredericks 80), Rice, Diop, Cresswell, Souček, Noble, Bowen, Fornals (Yarmolenko 80), Felipe Anderson (Lanzini 67), Antonio.
Unused subs: Randolph, Balbuena, Wilshere, Ajeti, Silva, Johnson.
Wolves: Patrício, Boly, Coady (c), Saïss, Doherty, Neves, Dendoncker (Traoré 63), Moutinho, Jonny (Vinagre 89), Diogo Jota (Neto 63), Jiménez (Gibbs-White 90+2).
Unused subs: Ruddy, Jordão, Kilman, Buur, Podence.
Booked: Moutinho (58), Antonio (62).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
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