Yeah I know, there hasn’t been much thought in the title this week. There didn’t seem to be much thought in West Ham’s game plan either and they suffered. I highly doubt there will be same experience of excruciation across the next few paragraphs.
The simple fact remains though, that The Hammers were themselves hammered. I mean, the first few blows to this rusty old nail weren’t quite on the money, but it took just three second-half strikes to get this flush into the wood. This was a performance of such dominance, you could be forgiven for forgetting who the newly-promoted side was.
It is my long-held belief that people overplay home advantage. Nevertheless, we’ve been decidedly average in our own back yard, a place where we can set the game up to suit ourselves within certain parameters, with a bellowing choir to drive us on. The last time we played a London club on a bitterly cold midweek evening, it was a drab, uninspiring affair. But then Crystal Palace actually tried to engage in hand-to-hand combat, rather than floating around in some feeble attempt to impose their own game on us. We’ve seen this from teams higher up the league than ourselves and we’ve seen us prosper, so it wasn’t much surprise when West Ham started giving us plenty of encouragement in the first half, that we began to run all over them.
It’s interesting to see how our newly-formed midfield three has actually allowed us to become more fluid and creative going forward. Again, this is caveated with West Ham’s obliging nature, but we seemed to pick up plenty of the ball in front of the back four. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez need no invitation to head directly towards goal and they were again effective in their effervescence. Not for one second could West Ham’s backline switch off because if they did, they were ready to pounce.
Then we have that dreamy, decadent trio in the middle, the buttercream filling in the Wolverhampton Wanderers cake. Leander Dendoncker, a walk-in wardrobe of a midfielder. He’s vast, spacious, practical, all while being discreet and elegant at the same time. And he’s the size of a wardrobe. Ruben Neves, our fledgling purveyor of passes, who is increasingly robust. Watch him last night, winning towering headers, making brisk-wall challenges with the sulking Atnautovic leaving the field after an encounter with the Portuguese international. And finally, our joao, Master Moutinho, the leader of the orchestra, dictator of proceedings and simply the most glorious diminutive presence to grace the Molineux turf in a generation. Together, these three combined to form an all-purpose, all-conquering midfield that eviscerated any hopes of West Ham getting a result.
This wasn’t a 90-minute massacre. As is generally the way with this Wolves team, we felt our way into the game. Nuno spoke vehemently pre-match about how we needed to tighten up in the back, where the absence of Willy Boly has prompted a leakiness almost unheard of under Nuno. It’s not something you could simply attribute to one player not being present though. There were some structural issues to address clearly and the defensive display was as emphatic as the second-half show of attacking. Precisely zero shots on target from The Irons who apparently had their talisman back. If I was to go on last night’s showing, Felipe Anderson stands head and shoulders above Marko Arnautovic, who resembled a man who really did wish he had f***ed off to China.
Still, the deadlock wasn’t broken until beyond an hour in. Maybe Lukasz Fabianski had simply had enough of fending us off after we continually sifted ourselves through a rather porous defence. The problem seemed to be the chances falling to the wrong men – both Romain Saiss and Jonny (twice) had had gilt-edged opportunities to open the scoring spurned. In the end Saiss took his second bite of the cherry with aplomb, although the manner in which it came felt rather simple in comparison to a lot of the silky work that had gone on up until that point. Sometimes, a ball into the box is all you need and the House of Cards that was West Ham’s defence treated this like Kryptonite. Moutinho duly delivered his second assist for Jimenez and there was a real sense of control, the like of which we haven’t exerted as a Premier League club in donkey’s years, bar perhaps Burnley earlier in the season.
From then on, it wasn’t just party football, it was after-party football. The tie was wrapped around the head, being swung all over the place. West Ham were the drunk bloke in the corner, lying in his own vomit, with indescribably inappropriate doodles on their fotehead. Wolves were the star attraction, with no party trick off limits. At one point Moutinho and Jota exchanged a one-two that had seemingly gone wrong, only to do exactly what they intended anyway. Matt Doherty was nutmegging his opposite number on multiple occasions, Jonny was as close to scoring as anyone – they were all in on the act. It was a night where nothing could stop us and Jimenez’s dinked finish – with his left foot might I add (regular watchers will know what I mean by this) – was an icing on a wonderful cake.
I’ve spoken regularly on watershed moments – although if this was televised it would have been a post-watershed broadcast due to physical abuse of opposition – but this was the pummeling of an established Premier League side. For the first time in our history, we’ve done the double over West Ham. We have a striker who has hit double figures by January, a defence at possibly it’s weakest all season, keeping out some stellar talent and a midfield fit to wear almost any shirt in the country. That we’re beating the teams around us – with Everton upcoming – shows how effective the plan is. We could be looking at daylight between us in 7th and the rest of the Premier League by Saturday evening. We face League One opposition in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, with the prospect of Championship opposition in the Fifth.
Holy Shit. This is really happening – isn’t it?