Monday 16 January 2017

Jelavic breaks Hammers duck to see off battling Wolves

West Ham 1-0 Wolves

Alan Smith

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Nikica Jelavic was on target for West Ham. Photo: Getty Images
Nikica Jelavic was on target for West Ham. Photo: Getty Images
A West Ham fan holding a match day program. Photo credit: Steve Paston/PA Wire
West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic gestures on the touchline. Photo credit: Steve Paston/PA Wire

It would have sat uncomfortably with many West Ham fans if this had been the last Cup match to be played here, but Nikica Jelavic ensured they will be in the draw for the fourth round by scoring the only goal of a largely dismal contest five minutes from the end.

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Kenny Jackett's teams have never been easy to break down but for all of Wolves' impressive resilience and organisation there was equally a shortage of imagination in the home ranks until the introduction of Andy Carroll 20 minutes from time.

That substitution led West Ham to revert to a 4-4-2 formation and the pressure eventually told, even if the build-up was a touch clumsy and came about after a feeble clearance. Carroll provided the assist. The former Newcastle and Liverpool target man had tried to shoot from around 25 yards after a poor header away from Ethan Ebanks-Landell but only met fresh air. However, spotting Jelavic in space to his left, he guided the ball to the Croatian striker, who finished sweetly to the bottom-right corner for his first goal for the club.

"It was important" West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said of the substitution. "We were patient, we didn't lose our shape but changed our system because we needed an extra body in the box. Andy made a big impact."

When Mauro Zarate, best remembered here for comically striking a free-kick straight at a one-man wall, was exchanged for Carroll it said much for the shortage of action that the loudest cheer before the goal arrived was when he was introduced.

Until that point West Ham were restricted to attempts from distance, the pick of them coming a minute before the break when Carl Jenkinson's shot was touched over by Carl Ikeme.

The Wolves goalkeeper also made routine saves from Pedro Obiang and Aaron Cresswell. At the other end action was even harder to come by.

It took 51 minutes for an attempt to be registered, and even that deflected punt from Kevin McDonald was bread and butter for West Ham's Ireland international goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Wolves sorely missed the Bournemouth-bound Benik Afobe and their deficiencies in attack were compounded when Bjorn Sigurdarson was carried off after going to ground without contact seven minutes into the second half. Sigurdarson was making his first start since December 2013 and had recently recovered from back surgery.

"He collapsed with nobody near him," Jackett said. "It's his back again but I have no more information than that."

The visitors enjoyed their best spell soon after that, forcing a succession of corners while Michal Zyro shot straight at Randolph, but the introduction of Dimitri Payet, continuing his return to full fitness after an ankle issue, also galvanised West Ham.

He zipped a free-kick narrowly over 10 minutes from the end. Some West Ham supporters, so eager for a goal, started celebrating when the ball hit the wrong side of the net after hitting a stanchion. But they needed to wait only five more minutes.

Observer

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