The Football League Paper - - FA CUP THIRD ROUND - By Colin Hen­rys

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

HEAD OVER HEELS: Helder Costa cel­e­brates scor­ing Wolves’ first goal, In­set


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