Coca Cola Championship
Reading 3 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 12th March 2005
by Gordon Thrower

Wins and defeats seem to be like buses these days. They come in threes.

So we ventured west to London Irish’s ground which the bewigged one modestly allowed his yes men to name after him, This followed a session in the “Three Guineas” pub by the station where, amongst the collection of rugby shirts of the world was a tasteful number in pink and blue which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a Scotland away kit. Whether or not one would have gained access to the lego stadium wearing such a number I have no idea but, given that the Reading stewards seemed to be applying some sort of dress code with at least one person being denied access for the apparent crime of wearing a hat, the rugby shirt was not something I’d have risked.

Team news was that new signing Newton went straight into the side in a sort of right wing back position. Rumours of Ferdinand’s return turned out to be sadly premature though Mark Noble made a welcome return in the absence of Williams who had picked up a training knock. The team lined up thus: Bywater, Newton, Powell, Mullins, Mackay, Etherington, Noble, Lomas, Fletcher, Harewood, Zamora.

The early exchanges were scrappy. Fletch picked up what appeared to be a painful knock off the ball which required lengthy treatment. The most noteworthy individual appeared to be the assistant referee on the right hand side who nailed his colours to the mast early on when flagging for a couple of dives. This was, not for the first time this season, to become a recurring theme throughout the match and, whilst I do not wish to condone blatant gamesmanship, if referees are going to ignore it I really wish our players would go down just that bit easier sometimes.

The clearest chance of the early part of the game went to Reading when, with about five minutes gone, a Newman shot came back off the post. Bywater might have got a touch but, as players went in for the rebound, the flag went up to render the exercise somewhat academic.

On 13 minutes we went one down and, again not for the first time this season, the long arm of officialdom can claim a major assist. Morgan dived in front of Mackay without reward. So, working on the Preston Principle (if at first you don’t succeed, dive, dive again) he went down again. Aided by the linesman, ref Joslin (a strange choice given his poor performance in the corresponding fixture last season) gave the free-kick which was headed in by Kitson. Kitson went running across towards the linesman in thanks, though we can be thankful he didn’t totally give the game away by hugging him.

About fifteen minutes later things went from bad to worse and again the ref had no little part to play. A burst into the box ended with a dive from Morgan so obvious that Joslin spotted it. We know this because he did the crossed hands “play-on” sign. Kitson then put the ball out with Bywater getting nowhere near it. Somehow Joslin saw this as a corner, which was about as incorrect a decision as it could have been. Either it was a penalty or a goal kick. Joslin was too busy congratulating himself on spotting the earlier dive, though not to the extent of actually doing anything about it. Since we had already proved that we can’t defend set pieces, the award of a corner rather than the indirect free-kick in our favour that the earlier dive merited was tantamount to giving them a penalty and so it proved. The corner came over, got flicked on and Kitson picked up his second. Two set plays two goals. You get the picture.

Up the other end there was little of note going on. A couple of weak and wayward headers from Harewood apart, the passing game was all shot to pieces and Reading had little trouble dealing with things. It was a poor display, even by our own recent standards.

The second half started with a change of personnel with Chadwick coming on to make his first appearance since doing his hamstring up at Sheffield, Fletcher being the one to make way.

Well having supported this club for over 40 years now you’d think that by now I’d be used to the resilience, gallows humour, and sheer bloody mindedness of the average Hammer. However, our capacity for revelling in our own misfortune reached new heights as the “claret & blue army” chant started and got louder, and louder. There was a brief pause for breath that was filled by “Bubbles” but by and large the chanting was fairly constant.

This didn’t stop Reading wrapping things up with a third goal of course. Helped again by the obligatory assist from the ref who decided that a full-blooded push on Newton that flattened the new signing was somehow not worthy of punishment, Morgan’s first effort was saved by Bywater so Kitson had two goes himself. Bywayer saved the first but Kitson had all the time in the world to gather the ball and bury it.

Reading is yet another one of those clubs with the habit of playing a little tune for their supporters when they score. This is not a habit of which I’m personally fond, particularly as most clubs who do this seem to have a singular lack of imagination as to the choice of tune. Memo to all clubs: If you have to play a tune – and face it it’s a particularly naff thing to do in the first place, please try to find something other than Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag or Tom Hark. As long as it’s not Build Me Up Buttercup.

On this occasion the cacophony was drowned out by the Claret and Blue Army chant which, in a Villa Park stylie, was simply cranked up a notch or two much to the bemusement of the home support who could only come up with the highly amusing “Pardew out”. Still this season at least they didn’t trust the kid who owns the local computer with printing off posters – I mean Judas was such a hard word to spell, so this year they stuck to the tried and tested marker pen on cardboard method!

There was a brief respite from the misery when Sheringham, who had earlier replaced Zamora, buried a loose ball from the edge of the box with 8 minutes left on the clock but it was all far too little too late and the game petered out despite a late run out up front for Elliot Ward. Mark Noble came across to acknowledge the crowd’s efforts whilst the rest of the squad stuck with the “clap from a distance” approach, presumably, and probably correctly, embarrassed that the efforts on the pitch did not match those from the visiting support.

Reading hadn’t won this year but frankly they hadn’t played anyone as poor as we were in this match. When we play that badly a half decent team can beat us let alone Reading who weren’t really any great shakes themselves – there again they didn’t have to be.,

I think it was the great Anthony Hancock (try UK Gold younger readers), who once said something along the lines of “it’s not the despair I can’t stand, it’s the hope”. This quote came to mind when we discovered that nothing had changed league-table wise and that we were still 7th with a game in hand. Despite a run of form that leaves a lot to be desired, and without being able to blame Maltese Hammer who wasn’t present at the match, we are somehow still in the mix. If we are to fail to make the play-offs I wish someone would put us out of our agony and tell us now so we can at least get on with our lives.

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Let down badly by his defence whose efforts at set-pieces beggared belief. Was unlucky to see his double save from Kitson end up in the net. The kicking was much better this week, though after last week it could hardly have got any worse.

Shaun Newton
Hadn?EUR(TM)t had much training with his team mates and it showed. Started off in a sort of wing back role that didn?EUR(TM)t seem to add much either defensively or in midfield.

Chris Powell
Got some good blocks in, though his attacking options seemed limited by the apparent disappearance of Etherington.

Hayden Mullins
Caught out in the air on the first two goals, a failing that opposition sides have targeted all season.

Malky Mackay
Seemed even more immobile than usual and his distribution tactic of hoofing it as far as possible was all-too predictable.

Carl Fletcher
Anonymous up to half time when he was replaced.

Mark Noble
Tried hard enough but on a day like this he had little support from his colleagues.

Matthew Etherington
Kept disappearing inside which, apart from taking him into already overcrowded territory, meant that Powell had to sling in aimless crosses from deep.

Steve Lomas
Ran about a lot though with little effect.

Bobby Zamora
Like Harewood he struggled with an almost complete lack of service.

Marlon Harewood
Another frustrating day. Got into a couple of decent positions but proved adept only at hitting row z or the ?EUR~keeper?EUR(TM)s arms.


Luke Chadwick
(Replaced Fletcher, 45) Failed to really give the width that his introduction merited.

Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Zamora, 62) Took the goal well but otherwise not much of an influence.

Elliott Ward
(Replaced Mullins, 87) Thrown on as a late sub but not enough time to shine.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

Nigel Reo-Coker
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Stephen Bywater, Shaun Newton, Chris Powell, Hayden Mullins, Malky Mackay, Carl Fletcher, Mark Noble, Matthew Etherington, Steve Lomas, Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Teddy Sheringham 82                  .

Booked: Carl Fletcher 28          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Sonko, Ingemarsson, Hughes, Sidwell, Newman, Little, Kitson, Morgan.

Subs not used: Young, Keown.

Goals: Kitson (13, 27, 57).

Booked: Newman (11).

Sent off: None.

Referee: P.Joslin.

Attendance: 22,268.

Man of the Match: Stephen Bywater.