Judging by West Ham’s barnstorming start at Molineux, they had been chomping at the bit to get out onto the pitch and face Wolves ever since the full-time whistle blew at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea’s 5-2 defeat at home to West Brom was confirmed on Saturday. With Tottenham also dropping two points away at Newcastle, there was no way the Hammers were going to pass up this latest opportunity to enter the top four.
Running out 3-2 winners on Monday night, West Ham fans will be grinning like a teenager after the nightclub bouncer finally moves the red velvet rope and allows him to enter. With eight games to go, West Ham are in. As it stands, they are part of the exclusive group sat in those coveted Champions League positions. There is a long way to go but to be fourth as we approach the business end of the season is dream stuff for the east London club.
They were three-up on 38 minutes. Yes, they were three up six minutes earlier than that at home to Arsenal before being pegged back to draw two weeks ago. This time though, this time was different. Only just, but still. Sure, they let two in, but they had learned and ultimately kept the Wolves from the door.
Jesse Lingard put David Moyes’ side ahead after only six minutes, picking the ball up on the halfway line and steamrollering his way forward before galloping into the box and finishing with his left foot. Pablo Fornals doubled the lead on 14 minutes after more brilliant play by Lingard. The Manchester United loanee produced a stunning turn and flick to keep the ball in play before Arthur Masuaku crossed for Fornals to side foot home.
Lingard then turned provider for the third, racing into the opposition half with six Wolves players left chasing him before he teed up Jarrod Bowen who managed to keep up with him before lashing the ball into the back of the net. The 28-year-old playmaker, who earned an England recall last week, has made a massive impact for the Hammers and has contributed a goal or assist in all but one of his league games for the club.
Leander Dendoncker got a goal back for the hosts just before half-time which will have led to worry for the fans watching at home. Without Declan Rice, sidelined after picking up an injury whilst on Three Lions duty, West Ham weren’t as solid through the middle but dug in. Fabio Silva then drilled a shot past Lukasz Fabianski and with 22 minutes still to go, supporters will have feared the worst and muttered ‘Here we go again’. Wolves had two third of the possession in the second half as they probed for a leveller but West Ham held on to see the game out.
The victory took the East End club above London rivals Chelsea and they are only four points behind Leicester in third. Of course, Liverpool, Tottenham and the Blues will chase them until the last kick in May but West Ham will be full of confidence and looking forwards as they gear up to take on the Foxes in what will be a massive match next Sunday.
As for Moyes, he has been here before, taking an unfancied side into the top four after his heroics with Everton back in 2005. Then, he had a Spanish midfielder, in Mikel Arteta, and a player signed from the Championship, in Tim Cahill spearheading the push, just as he does now with Fornals and Bowen getting their names on the scoresheet here.
What helped the Toffees was the January arrival of Arteta. He provided a spark and boasted genuine quality. He created and controlled proceedings in the middle of the pitch. Sixteen years later, Lingard is performing the same role for Moyes.
On Monday at Wolves, he was again the driving force for the Hammers and everything good was instigated by him. He was hobbling in injury time which will be a concern but for now, West Ham can enjoy the moment.
Feeling wanted and relied upon, he’s excelling after being cast aside at Old Trafford this season. West Ham are reaping the benefits and who knows, perhaps Lingard and the Hammers could be in next season’s Champions League competing with Manchester United?
It would be deserved, for Moyes and Lingard have answered their critics through sheer hard work and will. The talent has always been there.