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West Ham 1-0 Wolves

By Tom Bason
January 9 2016

Wolves annual departure at the FA Cup third round stage occurred as was expected today, with a 1-0 loss to West Ham. Wolves were within five minutes of taking the Irons to a replay, before Nikica Jelavić ensured West Ham's passage to the next round.

-With the FA Cup being bottom of the priorities list, Kenny Jackett made a few changes. Benik Afobe was left out, amid talk of a bid from Bournemouth, with Björn Sigurðarson making his first Wolves start in over two years. Elsewhere, both wingers, Jordan Graham and James Henry, were on the substitute bench. The two replacement wide men were both interesting; Michał Żyro was making his debut for the club, while Rajiv van La Parra has made it quite clear that he had no real interest in returning as a Wolves player. The decision to play van La Parra but not Afobe was interesting- van La Parra is now cup tied should any other team come in for him.

- We actually started the game on the front foot, and were the better team for the first five minutes or so. While we didn't really create anything, we had good possession in the West Ham half, winning a couple of corners. However, this was not how the rest of the game was to go. It was clear that we came to the Boleyn Ground with a game plan not to get beat. This has appeared to be the game plan for the previous three games, and somehow we managed to get nine points from those. But today we were facing a better opponent, a team on the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League who wouldn't concede soft goals in the way that Brighton, Charlton and Nottingham Forest did.

- From the off, we defended quite deeply. When West Ham had the ball, there were was no high press, and when West Ham had the ball in their half, we were more than happy for them to keep it. Even when they crossed the halfway line, we were generally happy for them to have possession; it was not until they moved into our final third of the pitch that we tried to win the ball back. This meant that we had ten players back behind the ball pretty much at all times, squeezing the space in which West Ham wished to play. It probably didn't help that both of West Ham played more a 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation, than with two widemen; Mauro Zárate and Michail Antonio both played more like central attacking midfielders than wingers. This effectively gave West Ham five men in the centre of the park, so it was not really surprising that they were able to dominate possession in there. But, the lack of attacking width from the forwards meant that Dominic Iorfa and Matt Doherty tucked in, and the very narrow back four together with Conor Coady and Kevin McDonald in front, formed an effective barrier that West Ham couldn't really pass through. They had slightly more joy pushing the fullbacks forward, who were expected to provide the width. Yet, for some reason, most of these attacks came down the right flank, through Carl Jenkinson, rather than down the left through Aaron Cresswell, who has always appeared a far more potent attacking player. While Jenkinson did get forward down the right, at no point did I ever fear he'd create anything. As a result, West Ham were pretty much reduced to long range shots, with a Jenkinson effort tipped over by Carl Ikeme the closest they got to a breakthrough.

- While we were happy to put up an impregnable wall to stop West Ham attacking, it pretty much negated any attacking threat that we had. At times, Sigurðarson must have felt that he needed binoculars to see the nearest Wolves shirt. On the rare occasions that we got the ball and were then able to pick him out, he was fairly easy pickings for West Han's centre backs James Collins and Winston Reid. There were a few moments when he was able to link up with Żyro or van La Parra, but these were generally few and far between.

- On Żyro, it really wasn't a good match on which to judge him. He had little opportunity to show his attacking abilities, although a few things did stand out. Firstly, his finishing in the warm up was superb, on his right and left foot. Obviously, training goals don't always translate to actual goals, but hopefully it was a good indication of his abilities. Secondly, he is reasonably tall, and has a decent leap. When Michael Jacobs was in the team, we it listed having a winger with an excellent jump well, with Ikeme often aiming for Jacobs for long balls. Jacobs' header against Crewe Alexandra in the game that pretty much turned our League One season was possibly the best showcase of Jacobs' aerial abilities. Yet, this made it a slight surprise that Ikeme didn't aim for Żyro with long balls, instead preferring to target Sigurðarson. One negative of Żyro though; early on, he pushed the ball past Jenkinson with the expectation that he could outpace the West Ham fullback. He couldn't.

- The second half started in a similar vein as the first had been, until Bjorn Sigurðarson’s horrible luck continued as he collapsed in agony without a player near him. He was immediately tended to by three Wolves' staff, a West Ham medic, and five St John's Ambulance men who stretchered him off the pitch. But, this seemed to spark something in the Wolves team (I don't know if it was organic, or something Kenny Jackett did while Sigurðarson was getting treatment), and all of a sudden, Adam le Fondre Dave Edwards and Coady were hassling and harrying the West Ham players. For ten minutes of so, the game was quite even, until West Ham were able to get a foothold back in the game. Bringing on Andy Carroll gave them an additional target upfront, and he duly set up Nikica Jelavić for the game's only goal.

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