Something had to give. Two managers under pressure. West Ham on their worst home run for more than 19 years. Wolves winning only one of their past 14 Premier League matches.
Once West Ham scored, it was always likely to be Bruno Lage’s Wolves who ended the evening in the bottom three and booed off by their own fans.
Despite creating several chances and controlling much of the possession they continue to be hopeless in front of goal. The appearance of Diego Costa as a second-half substitute caused fleeting problems but the impact sub, his wrecking-ball peak a distant memory, soon faded.
West Ham’s collection of three points was testament to taking chances when presented and the value of confident, decisive attackers. “The first time West Ham conquer the ball, a fast attack, they score,” said Lage.
Gianluca Scamacca, West Ham’s goalscorer after 29 minutes with a sharp, slightly deflected finish, and Jarrod Bowen, the scorer of their second, appeared on each other’s wavelength. Great news for David Moyes as he seeks to lift his team’s early-season torpor. “We really like him a lot,” said Moyes of Scamacca. “It’s slightly different from what we’ve got. He’s not a target man, he’s got ability in a different way.”
As for Bowen, unused by England in the international break: “I’ve told Jarrod, ‘Look if you score five or six goals you’ll be close to that aeroplane going to the World Cup.’”
Wolves’ problems appear far graver. “We’re under pressure,” said Lage. Does Costa represent desperation or inspiration? The old warhorse, 34 on Friday and chugging down energy drinks on the bench, was made to wait until the 58th minute.
Before that, a first-half knock to Pedro Neto had him raging he had not been requested to warm up. That Costa was incapable of 65 minutes became evident as he swiftly ran out of steam in his first match since December 2021.
While Lage probably got that call right, the makeup of his team was less successful. Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves were making their 150th Wolves appearances together but not in midfield. Neves, with Nathan Collins suspended, was dropped into defence. An early booking for baulking Bowen was an indicator of the club captain’s struggles with the speed of West Ham attacks. Wolves meanwhile missed his control in midfield.
The yellow card means he will miss next week’s encounter at Chelsea and Neves was in confessional mode after the match. “It is time to look to ourselves,” he said, acknowledging the rancour that followed he and his teammates down the tunnel. “What we are doing in the Premier League is not enough. Having the ball is not enough. The people don’t deserve to see what we are doing at the moment.”
Wastefulness and slack defending are a bad combination. West Ham’s second goal, expertly steered in by Bowen, came soon after an Adama Traoré’s miss, and far too easily. After Thilo Kehrer’s shot was blocked by Max Kilman, Bowen used Rayan Aït-Nouri as a screen to beat José Sá.
With 58 minutes gone, Lage pushed the Costa button. On he came with trademark snarl, ordering his new colleagues into position. Wolves abandoned their previous oblique passing patterns, instead getting the ball launched into the mixer, where Costa could ask very different questions of Craig Dawson and Kurt Zouma in the centre of West Ham’s defence.
His big chance came after 10 minutes, Traoré’s cross finding him unmarked in a position he has scored from myriad times. And yet he headed wide, this time saving the snarl for himself. It was next aimed at an assistant referee when he had set up Daniel Podence for a tap-in but had loped offside. At least something was finally happening up front for Wolves, though it would not last for long. “It’s clear we are a different team when we have a reference, a striker,” said Lage. “He can play 35 minutes today. I think he can play a good level.”
Lage knows he needs far more than that. “If a new manager comes in, he’ll still have the same problems,” he said. Without goals, or the likelihood of scoring them, Wolves will be staying in the bottom three.