WOLVES MISS ABSENT AFOBE
WOLVES paid the price for failing to break down their Premier League opponents as West Ham snatched a late win.
They certainly could have done with the lively presence of Benik Afobe up front, but with negotiations over a £10m move to Bournemouth at a crucial stage, Wolves boss Kenny Jackett left the striker out of his starting line-up.
“Benik is in talks with Bournemouth,” said Jackett.“It’s a significant profit but it’s a miss for us because he’s our top scorer and we’re trying to find forwards that make the difference.”
Afobe’s absence meant a first start in nearly two years for Bjorn Sigurdarson, who was on his own in a 4-4-1-1 formation with debutant Michal Zyro dictating play behind him. And the performance of his makeshift attack gave Jackett some pleasure in defeat.
“The front three did well,” said the manager.“It was Sigurdarson’s first game back. Zyro came off late with cramp in both thighs and he’s only recently come back from an ankle injury, so we’ve got to manage that correctly and not burn him out.”
West Ham named a strong line-up but both sides struggled to settle. It took around 20 minutes for the familiar narrative of Premier League team at home against lower-league opposition to kick in. Zyro introduced himself early, and all credit to Wolves, they weren’t afraid to mix it.
And having withdrawn into themselves as West Ham enjoyed sustained spells of possession before the break,Wolves brought themselves forward more after it even after Sigurdarson suffered what may be a recurrence of his back injury. Zyro played fearlessly and seemed the most likely to unlock the opposition, until Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll came on as West Ham manager Slaven Bilic sought answers of his own with the game fading.
It was the Englishman who helped find it. He miscontrolled a clearance, gathered himself and found Nikica Jelavic.The Croatia striker had been largely ineffective all game, but sent an unstoppable half-volley across Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme to land the knockout blow with five minutes to go.
Wolves were chasing, but were not built to do so. Adam Le Fondre had a late chance which trickled agonisingly wide and meant West Ham, despite making heavy weather of it, advanced to the fourth round.
Bilic poured praise on his international substitutes, saying: “Dimitri’s sub was planned because no matter what the result was, he needed minutes. When we changed the system, with Andy, he made his usual big impact and helped Jela score a wonderful goal. We are happy to go through with a clean sheet and a great, welldeserved goal.
“Carroll was important. He’s in good form and I told him he needs to look after himself. He looks really fit and capable of doing many things on the pitch. He does not have to be fit to head the ball but playing the ball, controlling it and everything
else, he needs fitness.”