West Ham, the last club from outside the top division to win the FA Cup, did the second tier of the English game proud again yesterday, breezing into the fifth round against a Wolves side who can now concentrate on preserving their Premiership status.
Watched by the man whose header beat Arsenal at Wembley in 1980, Trevor Brooking, as well as by Rio Ferdinand, West Ham made a mockery of their patchy First Division form. The tie was all but settled by the half-hour mark, by which time Wolves' Vio Ganea had replied to early goals by Brian Deane and Marlon Harewood, only for David Connolly to restore the visitors' two-goal advantage.
Wolves, who paraded a new striker before the match in Carl Cort, Dave Jones' £2m signing from Newcastle, were not at full strength. Neither, arguably, were West Ham, yet they demonstrated once more that they are ideally equipped for playing away from home.
It is a measure of the upheaval at Upton Park over the past nine months that only one of the 16 on duty at Molineux, Christian Dailly, featured at Birmingham on the day they were relegated. All credit to Alan Pardew, then, for having built a team capable of counter-attacking so attractively.
West Ham had heroes in every department, but were especially well served at centre-back, by Dailly and Hayden Mullins, and on the flanks, where Harewood showed guile in an unaccustomed role and Matthew Etherington was perpetual motion personified.
With a heavy pitch and both sets of full-backs seemingly bereft of the most basic defensive attributes, it was a day for using the wings. Wolves' wide men never matched the energy of the West Ham duo. Damningly, their corners and free-kicks were invariably wasted.
West Ham led after only four minutes. Harewood's cross was headed clear by Mark Clyde but only to Deane. From 14 yards out, the veteran buried an instant half-volley past Michael Oakes.
A clever set-piece doubled the lead. Jon Harley feinted to shoot before darting down the left as Connolly rolled the ball into his path. Deane headed Harley's centre back across goal for Harewood to score with a bicycle kick.
"Judas, what's the score?" crowed the London hordes to Paul Ince, who is still disdained for posing in a Manchester United shirt while on West Ham's books. The answer was soon 2-1, Harley's poor control allowing Silas to set up Ganea, the Romanian, for his first goal for Wolves.
West Ham swiftly regained control, even though there was more than a hint of offside as Connolly, once of Wolves, raced on to Etherington's pass. The angle was awkward, the execution ruthless.
Remembering Wolves came from 3-0 down to beat Leicester and that West Ham blew an identical lead to lose to West Bromwich Albion, more goals seemed inevitable. They did not materialise, largely due to the profligacy of Leon Clarke, who marked his Wolves debut with an awful miss after 68 minutes, and to the post into which Colin Cameron's shot thudded late on.
Jones, who may add the Millwall goalkeeper Tony Warner to his squad before the transfer window closes on Saturday, called Wolves "dull and lethargic" after the exertion of extracting four points from Manchester United and Liverpool. "Maybe I sent out a message by making [five] changes," the Wolves manager admitted.
Pardew, meanwhile, has two recruits from Wimbledon, Nigel Reo-Coker and Adam Nowland, to enhance his options against Rotherham next Saturday, which remarkably is already a sell-out. Unlike Wolves, the Cup is a welcome distraction. "We enter competitions to win them," Pardew said, "not to make up the numbers."
Goals: Deane (4) 0-1; Harewood (20) 0-2; Ganea (22) 1-2; Connolly (31) 1-3.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Oakes; Luzhny (Craddock, 40), Clyde, Butler, Naylor; Silas (Gudjonsson, 65), Cameron, Ince, Kennedy; Miller (Clarke, 58), Ganea. Substitutes not used: Ikeme (gk), Iversen.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Bywater; Ferdinand (Quinn, 82), Mullins, Dailly, Harley; Harewood, Carrick, Horlock, Etherington; Connolly, Deane. Substitutes not used: Shaaban (gk), M Noble, D Noble, Cohen.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Bookings: West Ham: Harley.
Man of the match: Dailly.
Attendance: 24,430.Reuse content