Zola’s building that stairway to heaven

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 West Ham United 2 WOLVES new vice-president, Robert Plant, was introduced to the Molineux crowd before Saturday s curtain-raiser, but the Led Zeppelin rock God was left speechless by the end as it was West Ham who took the first

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 West Ham United 2

WOLVES new vice-president, Robert Plant, was introduced to the Molineux crowd before Saturday's curtain-raiser, but the Led Zeppelin rock God was left speechless by the end as it was West Ham who took the first steps on their Premier League stairway to heaven, writes DAVE EVANS.

Wolves huffed and puffed and tested Robert Green on more than one occasion, but it was West Ham who showed all the class in this game and in the end, they could and should have won by a more emphatic scoreline.

It was the Hammers first away day start since their return to the Premier League and a potential banana skin, with Wolves staging their first home game since winning the Championship title.

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The crowd were raucous, Wolves were speedy and enthusiastic, but Mick McCarthy's side lacked the cutting edge that you need in the top flight and ultimately paid the price.

"It was a very professional win," said West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola afterwards. "We conceded some chances to them, but, on the other hand, we created so many opportunities to score.

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"I'm pleased. It's been a good performance and it was the perfect way to start the season."

It was, but it could have been a very different story had Wolves taken one of their early chances. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake headed over Stephen Ward's cross when well-placed, while he and Andy Keogh then combined for the latter to blast over.

At the other end, Julien Faubert had tested the Wolves defence with two low crosses that evaded everyone, while the Hammers had fired a warning when Carlton Cole played the ball out to Mark Noble on the right, and his pull back was blasted well over by the lively Kieron Dyer.

A minute later and it was 1-0. Cole controlled Matty Upson's long ball forward and when he squared it for Noble, the midfielder was hardly approached by the Wolves defence, who watched in awe as he curled a delightful shot into the top corner from 20 yards.

Matt Jarvis spur-ned another decent chance for Wolves, but then West Ham took charge and should really have had this game dead and buried by half time.

Cole beat the offside trap to latch on to Noble's pass, only to see his shot blocked. The rebound fell to Dyer who beat the keeper, but not Jody Craddock, who hacked it off the line.

A Noble corner picked out the head of Herita Ilunga whose effort was tipped over, and the full back was at it again moments later with a blocked shot which fell for Dyer to try an audacious back-heel that Wayne Hennessey instinctively saved.

The most worrying time for the Hammers arrived at the start of the second half as Wolves came out all guns blazing.

Serbian Nenad Milijas forced a fine tip-over from Green and from the resulting corner, the goalkeeper was there again to block from Ebanks-Blake.

Two minutes later, Milijas was at it again with a low shot through a crowd of players which was brilliantly stopped by the England number one, and with that save, a lot of the heart seemed to go from Wolves play.

"The team looked in control, but when you're only winning 1-0, you fear that something could happen.

"Fortunately the team was focused and we kept our composure when they were coming at us," said Zola.

West Ham missed another golden chance on 53 minutes when a defensive mistake allowed Jack Collison to nip in and take possession inside the area. He rounded the keeper and steadied himself to finish it off, but with the goal at his mercy, he could only pick out Kevin Foley on the line, who gratefully cleared.

Milijas had another shot which flew inches over and then James Collins made his customary one mistake in a match to let in Ebanks-Blake, but once more Green was there to save superbly.

On 69 minutes, West Ham wrapped things up with the simplest of goals. Noble swung over a corner and Upson stole half a yard on Craddock to head into the net.

Zola was delighted: "It's quite funny because we were talking during the week and he said to me 'I would like to score more goals this year'. Now he has just said to me 'We have to talk more often' so I told him 'anytime!'"

There was still time for Scott Parker to intercept, find Cole, who in turn set up Jimenez for a shot that forced a good save from Hennessey, while at the other end, Green was equal to Richard Stearman's header, but to all intents and purposes, the game was all over bar the shouting.

"I have every respect for Wolves because the teams that have just come up have a lot of enthusiasm, but to be honest, when I saw us play against Napoli, I saw some good things from my team," said Zola.

"I was very impressed and that made me very positive for today."

West Ham fans will have come away full of positivity too. They had worried about going into the game with only one experienced striker; worried about Zola's supposedly negative formation, but in the end it worked a treat.

The movement of the midfield was the key. Parker ran the show; Jimenez created space for others, while Noble and Dyer were given the sort of freedom that they relish, getting into attacking positions.

This formation may not work at home, and Zola will not want to concede so many chances against the Spurs strikers next Sunday, but the signs are promising for West Ham.

Add an experienced striker to the mix and who knows what they can achieve?

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