Tuesday, 11th September 2001
The first hour of the game saw West Ham perform tidily in defence and produce some competent play in midfield. What was painfully obvious was the distinct lack of cutting edge. This was evident in mainly two forms: firstly, the lack of a penetrating final ball and secondly, the inability to make the most of our chances. West Ham manoeuvred themselves into plenty of promising positions and produced enough chances to establish a decisive lead. Todorov, Sinclair, Defoe, Hutchison and Moncur all had decent attempts on goal in the first half but a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing meant that West Ham had nothing to show for their efforts at half-time. An indicative moment was when a flowing move involving Hutchison, Sinclair and Defoe provided Todorov with an opening but his poor touch allowed the Reading defenders an opportunity to make a vital challenge. Todorov proceeded to play as if lacking in confidence, losing the ball regularly and rarely providing any aerial challenge to the Reading defenders. Since he was being partnered by Defoe in attack, it begged the question why West Ham defenders chose to launch high balls up to them on so many occasions.
The relatively good form of the first half soon dissipated and Reading began to prove more of a threat. Shaka Hislop produced several good saves once again and still managed to be the target of adulation from the Reading fans - an impressive feat. The introduction of Darius Henderson for Reading in the 67th minute added more pressure on the West Ham defence. By all accounts a promising youngster, Henderson was able to profit from good crosses by Reading's wide players and displayed good movement and aerial ability in the penalty area. It was disappointing to see that West Ham had not managed anything like this throughout the game. Nevertheless, West Ham managed to escape without conceding during this period of mounting pressure but rarely threatened Reading's goal in the process.
Extra time followed a similar pattern with Reading benefiting in attack from the added bite of their 100th minute substitute, Tony Rougier. Glenn Roeder had also made a couple of substitutions, Courtois and Garcia replacing Moncur and Todorov. Both showed some good touches but did not supply the incisiveness that was needed. Once again West Ham managed to create a priceless opening with Defoe putting Sinclair through only for the ball to get stuck under Trevor's feet. Hutchison then headed wide from a corner in the 120th minute to confirm West Ham's profligacy in front of goal.
We were provided with a final opportunity to win the game during the penalty shoot out when Shaka saved Harper's penalty and Jermain Defoe stepped up to take the final one. The young man was left to look on agonisingly as he sent the keeper the wrong way but his shot clipped the outside of the post. Scott Minto struck a weak penalty that was saved easily and Adrian Viveash stepped up to score the winner for Reading.
The opportunities to win the game were clearly there but in all honesty it would not have been deserved. There was a substantial lack of threat about West Ham's play and overall it lacked the passion and energy that Reading showed. Sinclair, Schemmel and Hislop are perhaps the only players to emerge with some credit. Michael Carrick was particularly disappointing, in his defence though, he played most of the game on the left side of midfield.
Four games without a goal from open play and an early cup exit to a Second Division side will put extra pressure on Roeder and he must be hoping that some goals and a first win are waiting for him on Saturday at Middlesborough. Without Kanoute, Cole and Di Canio on Tuesday, his hands were tied to a certain extent and to his credit he tried toying with the formation during the game and brought Courtois and Garcia on in an effort influence proceedings. There is obviously a lot that Roeder still needs to learn about his own ability as a manager but on this night he learnt a fair amount about his team. It is clear that West Ham need to be more ruthless in such games otherwise the paper-thin confidence that pervades the club at the moment will slowly be torn apart.
Watching Don Hutchison walk off at the end of the game, I thought back to his first appearance for West Ham: a home game against Newcastle where he scored a penalty and we lost 3-1. It was the start of the season and we had gone several games without scoring; 5 years on and we are in almost an identical position. It is up to Glenn Roeder and his team to show that the club has actually moved on in that time. However, on a night like this, events in the USA made this football match trivial and concerns about our future form merely incidental.
West Ham United: Hislop, Minto, Schemmel, Dailly, Song, Moncur, Hutchison, Carrick, Sinclair, Todorov, Defoe
Subs: Foxe, Courtois, Soma, Garcia
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