West Ham United 2 (Hector-Ingram 80, Samuelson-pen 90+1)
A highly controversial penalty decision in stoppage time ended Wolves Under 23s hopes of promotion and put West Ham through to the play-off final where they will meet Newcastle.
There was little to choose between the sides in a lively opening to the game. The first clear cut chance went the way of Wolves when Christian Herc played Niall Ennis in on the left. The striker’s low cross ran through to Aaron Simpson at the far post but his powerful shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Kyle Knoyle got in the first attempt for the visitors curling the ball over the far angle from 25-yards out.
Hammers keeper Raphael Spiegel was almost made to pay for hesitating with a clearance. Donovan Wilson closed him down and nearly won possession before the ball was scrambled clear.
Spiegel made amends, however, in the next few minutes with two fine saves. He dived low to gather Herc’s shot on the run and then, at full stretch, he turned away a fierce drive from Dan Armstrong.
Wolves took the lead in the 24th minutes after a cross from Ennis had been deflected behind. Armstrong lifted over the corner and Sylvain Deslandes rose at the far post to dispatch a towering header (pictured).
Ennis, with some nifty footwork, caused havoc in the Hammers defence and in quick succession he fired in low crosses that were booted clear.
West Ham should have been level in the 35th minute when Noha Sylvestre’s cross found Martin Samuelson, unmarked, 10-yards out. The striker had beaten the offside trap but he got his header all wrong and was way off target.
Two minutes later Armstrong’s corner was half cleared to Herc who hit a 20-yard drive that was deflected inches wide of the post.
It was a near repeat from the next flag-kick but this time Herc hit a volley that flew straight at the fortunate Spiegel. Herc was booked shortly afterwards for pulling back Nathan Holland in midfield.
Half-Time: Wolves 1 Hammers 0
The second period opened with a West Ham attack – Grady Diangana hitting a low shot wide with Jack Ruddy looking to have the ball covered.
There was a murmur of expectation in the home support as Herc raced through the heart of the Hammers defence but from 25-yards out he let fly but was too high with his effort.
Spiegel saved a backheel from Wilson after Ennis’s short cross, before a foul by Deslandes on Samuelson a yard outside the box presented West Ham with a good opportunity. Samuelson took the free-kick and he was just a couple of feet too high.
West Ham made a double change in the 72nd minute replacing Diangana and Daniel Kemp with Jahmal Hector-Ingram and Joe Powell.
Three times in 90 seconds Spiegel saved his side. The Swiss keeper turned away a snapshot from Wilson at the near post and then somehow kept out Ennis’s drive before saving from Will Randall’s follow up shot.
After Conor Levingston had replaced Wilson, against the run of play West Ham pulled level in the 80th minute when their two substitutes combined with Hector-Ingram scoring with a close range header after a cross from Powell.
Worse was to follow in the first of four minutes of stoppage time when Hector-Ingram went down after brushing against Connor Johnson. There was no danger, no real contact and the ball looked to have run out of play but the referee pointed to the spot and Samuelson converted the kick.
After the superb season that the Under 23s have enjoyed, it was a cruel way to miss out on the chance of promotion.