When Tottenham were recently hailed for upgrading on Nuno Espirito Santo in their dugout, Wolves fans argued they had already been there, done that.
It is now time for that view to spread beyond the Wolves fraternity to the rest of the Premier League. Portuguese boss Bruno Lage is making his team better than last season in all aspects, first in terms of the exciting football but now also in results.
In a deserved and emphatic victory over West Ham yesterday, Wolves made it six wins from their last nine Premier League matches. That run followed three straight losses to start the season for Lage.
Raul Jimenez scored the only goal as Wolves claimed a deserved victory at Molineux
WOLVES (3-4-3): Sa 6; Kilman 7.5, Coady 7, Saiss 7; Semedo 6, Neves 7.5, Moutinho 7, Ait-Nouri 7; Podence 7 (Traore 76), Jimenez 8, Hwang 6.5 (Dendoncker 87).
Subs not used: Ruddy, Hoever, Marcal, Trincao, Boly, Silva, Cundle.
Manager: Bruno Lage 8.
WEST HAM (4-2-3-1): Fabianski 7.5; Johnson 6, Dawson 7, Zouma 5, Cresswell 6.5; Soucek 6, Rice 6.5; Bowen 7 (Yarmolenko 71, 6), Benrahma 5.5 (Vlasic 71, 6), Fornals 5 (Lanzini 59, 6); Antonio 6.
Subs not used: Areola, Coufal, Noble, Diop, Masuaku, Kral.
Manager: David Moyes 6.
Referee: Mike Dean 5.
The manager had a baptism of fire in English football and made many punters’ favourite in the market of ‘first manager to be sacked’ in the division.
Amid all the goals in the Premier League on Saturday, talk of Wolves might get overlooked but this win was their finest under Lage. They managed to make the League’s in-form team look damningly average.
Raul Jimenez’ second-half sumptuous strike was the only goal but it would have been far more if not for the steely determination of Hammers goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
‘I am so pleased to work with Raul,’ said Lage after the match. ‘He’s a top man and a top player. The chances he creates and the way he works for the team, it is so good. And he can score goals, so I am very happy with him.’
This was not just a win over a mid-table side, but a seismic three points against the team that swept Liverpool aside in their last match and also knocked reigning champions Manchester City out of the Carabao Cup, which they had won for four straight seasons.
The win also sends Wolves into sixth, above the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester. For all the talk about West Ham’s European quest, Wolves should not be forgotten.
In this match, Wolves looked supremely solid in defence and played fast, one-touch football when attacking, with their wing-back pair of Nelson Semedo and Rayan Ait-Nouri continuously causing problems.
Jimenez swept Daniel Podence’s low cut-back into the corner from the edge of the box
On the half-hour mark, referee Mike Dean waved away shouts for a penalty after a Hee-chan Hwang cross was clearly blocked by the arm of West Ham defender Ben Johnson.
After a turgid performance in a loss at Crystal Palace before the break, Wolves were back to their breathtaking best which played Everton off the park here two matches ago.
Jimenez scored a deft chip in that game and tried to replicate it here after Ruben Neves played a beautiful through ball to the Mexican forward. The shot was pulled just wide – he should have buried the chance.
But Wolves continued to threaten, with a number of chances saved by Fabianski. His opposite number, Jose Sa, was probably feeling the autumnal chill at Molineux, with West Ham barely threatening his goal all afternoon.
Kurt Zouma had the ball in the net, but the centre-back’s header was disallowed for a foul
Kurt Zouma did put the ball in Sa’s goal for West Ham but before the defender could wheel away to celebrate, referee Dean had signalled for a foul as Jarrod Bowen’s corner was crossed in.
It took until just before the hour mark for the West Ham wall to cave in, after more Fabianski saves had denied Daniel Podence and João Moutinho.
And the goal came after Wolves’ best attacking move of the match, a rapid counter-attack with fast passes exchanged between Podence and then Jimenez who unleashed a venomous strike past Fabianski from the edge of the box.
It was a peach of a goal and ultimately was enough to guarantee the win. After going behind, West Ham had more of the ball but barely caused Wolves reason to worry, though Bowen and Michail Antonio had half-chances.
Wolves made the division’s in-form side look surprisingly average on Saturday
‘Wolves are a good team and we were just not at it today,’ said Hammers boss David Moyes. ‘We’ve got 12 games down the line and we’re in a good position, though.’
Lage added: ‘After the last match – where we had a bad performance – we came back with a good performance today. West Ham are a very strong team so these are three very important points for us.’
It made it three straight wins at Molineux for Wolves, the first time they have gone on such a run at home in the top flight since 1980.
And in doing away with Moyes’ Champions League hopefuls, it is fair to say Wolves are living it large under Bruno. Or should that be… living it Lage?
West Ham manager David Moyes urges his side forward in the closing stages