West Ham hold off Wolves to go fourth after Jesse Lingard inspires win

What started as an ambition too ludicrous to mention is becoming increasingly realistic for West Ham, who moved closer to Champions League qualification thanks to another inspirational performance by Jesse Lingard. The Manchester United loanee scored for the sixth time in his eighth appearance for David Moyes’s side before creating another two goals as West Ham won a rollicking match and climbed to fourth in the table. In other words, the man who is proving to be one of the signings of the season is guiding his team towards one of the exploits of the season.

West Ham have not finished in the top four since 1986 but their display at Molineux suggested they believe that feat is now within their grasp. Lingard got them going with a wonderful goal in the sixth minute and then helped Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen to make it 3-0. But they had to work hard to hold on to that lead against dangerous hosts, who struck back through Leander Dendoncker and Fábio Silva.

“After 30 games it’s not a fluke to be in the top four,” said Moyes. “We’re there because we’ve played well enough. We’re not in the final furlong, we’ve got a couple of big jumps to go, but we’re challenging so let’s try to do everything to stay there. We’re going to go for it.”

After relinquishing a three-goal lead against Arsenal two weeks ago, West Ham were determined not to let this chance slip, though Moyes said they should have made things more comfortable for themselves after taking another 3-0 lead. “Managing the game is something we need to think about doing much better. We’re in such a good position that I think the boys are just enjoying the thought that we can keep scoring more goals.”

Both teams suffered serious blows before this match, with West Ham losing Declan Rice to injury and Wolves deprived of Willy Boly, who tested positive for Covid-19, and Jonny Castro, who tore a cruciate ligament in training on the same knee as eight months ago.

Wolves could have opened the scoring after two minutes, when Daniel Podence gave Willian José an early chance to score his first goal since joining the club in January. The striker drove wide from 14 yards.

Soon West Ham pushed the hosts backwards. In the fourth minute Michail Antonio glided past Dendoncker and unleashed a fierce long-range shot that Rui Patrício tipped on to the post. Two minutes later West Ham took the lead in irresistible style.

Vladimir Coufal created the goal by winning the ball in his own box, playing a one-two with Fornals and feeding Lingard, still inside West Ham territory. Lingard shifted into a gear that no one else seemed to possess and tore forward 40 yards, evading defenders before firing emphatically past Patrício.

Rayan Aït-Nouri blasted wide as Wolves sought an instant equaliser but soon the visitors increased their lead. Lingard was instrumental again, showing tenacity and trickery to keep the ball alive and play it to Arthur Masuaku, who helped the ball on to Fornals to finish calmly from 10 yards.

In a thrilling contest Podence then headed on to the crossbar before Antonio fluffed a chance to make it 3-0, misdirecting a header from seven yards out. The West Ham striker limped off in the 36th minute but his replacement, Bowen, scored within moments of arriving. Lingard was again the instigator thanks to another exceptional run and pass, which Bowen rewarded with a crisp finish.

After Willian José and Rúben Neves spurned more chances for Wolves, Dendoncker finally found the net for the hosts just before the break, heading powerfully into the net from a superb run and cross by Adama Traoré.

Nuno Espírito Santo introduced Silva for Podence and switched to 4-4-2 for the second half. But West Ham emerged as the more dangerous side, Bowen twice going close to increasing their lead. However, Silva set West Ham’s nerves jangling when he made it 3-2, finishing smartly from a tight angle after classy service by Pedro Neto.

Wolves did their utmost to find an equaliser but Dendoncker and Neto snatched at their best chances, both failing to keep shots down from inviting range.