CARL IS KING IN WOLVES’ CUPSET
CARL Ikeme was Wolves’ FA Cup hero, pulling off a string of brilliant saves as they beat Premier League Stoke City, but boss Paul Lambert insists the goalkeeper’s influence is just as important off the pitch.
Helder Costa gave Wolves a halftime lead but Ikeme had to be at his best to deny resurgent Stoke after the break before Matt Doherty sealed victory.
The experienced stopper saved from Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Joe Allen in an inspired second-half performance.
And Lambert believes, with morale continuing to improve at the club, there is plenty of cause for optimism at Wolves.
“Carl Ikeme’s a big character for us, a big player,” Lambert said. “First-half he had nothing to do but second-half he made four worldclass saves.
“You need your goalkeeper in the big moments but Carl Ikeme, not just as a goalkeeper but as a person, has been absolutely fantastic since I came in.
“We’ve been playing well for a number of weeks now. We work hard in training and I think everybody’s got an idea of how I want to play.
“When a club loses its manager, the mood is sombre. Results like this get it going again, and gets it lively.
“You need your whole squad and if they keep performing like that then we’re going to have a really, really good team.”
Wolves impressed from the start against their Premier League opponents, and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson twice fired wide across goal when well-placed in the first ten minutes.
The visitors’ bright start was rewarded on 29 minutes, when Costa cut inside from the right wing, rode Erik Pieters’ rash challenge and fired low into the bottom corner.
Stoke improved after the break – Shaqiri bringing the first good save from Ikeme on 52 minutes when he whipped in a low left-footed shot.
Charlie Adam shot straight at the Wolves keeper on 59 minutes, before moments later Arnautovic shrugged Dominic Iorfa aside only for Ikeme to deflect his powerful shot clear.
Ikeme produced another good save on 67 minutes, getting across well to turn Ibrahim Afellay’s rising shot wide, and then denied Peter Crouch from close-range.
Allen was next to be thwarted, as Ikeme got his fingertips to the Welshman’s rising strike on 73 minutes, while Crouch was inches away from turning Adam’s low shot in moments later.
But Doherty sealed victory on 80 minutes, stepping up to rifle a 20yard free-kick into the top corner in front of the visiting fans.
And Stoke boss Mark Hughes – who also praised Ikeme’s performance – slammed his team’s below-par display.
“There’s no excuse for our firsthalf performance. We were really poor,” he admitted. “We didn’t get up to the ball and we didn’t engage players on the edge of the box.
“I was certainly angry at halftime. We picked a team that, on paper, should have had enough quality and talent to take the game away from Wolves.
“Sometimes you’ve got to put a shift in, you have to anticipate things and get on the front foot – we didn’t do enough of that in the first half.
“But credit to Wolves – I thought they showed a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and had a goalkeeper who had an absolutely outstanding day at the office.”
HEAD OVER HEELS: Helder Costa celebrates scoring Wolves’ first goal, Inset
STAR MAN CARL IKEME Wolves