Coca Cola Championship
Reading 3 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 12th March 2005
by East Stand Martin

When I was a kid there was one sure fire thing that would make me hide behind the sofa. I was always to be found there when the Cybermen appeared on Doctor Who.

Today, we witnessed something even more horrific at the Madejski Stadium, yet there was nowhere to hide. All we could do was stand - I mean sit - there and watch the total and abject humiliation of our club.

We all knew what was at stake here. This was the return of Pardew, the non-prodigal son to his former employers, a team that had not won in thirteen, yes, thirteen games in the League. A team, though, that was level on points with us in what has now become a free for all scrap for a play off place. This team, by the way, had also only scored 6 goals in those thirteen games.

We needed something out of this game after two defeats on the bounce and a very poor performance at home against Preston. We had been promised by the manager as well that we would do better.

Promises, promises

This is what Pardew said before the match, “There will be thousands of Hammers fans at the Madejski Stadium looking to see their team get back on the promotion chase and it’s up to me and the players to make that happen and make sure that they’re satisfied. We’ve got to perform better than we did against Preston. This is a really big game for us, but the same can be said for every game between now and the end of the season.”

That was nothing but empty rhetoric, because rather than improve, we went significantly backwards. Pardew can talk the talk but he is not walking the walk.

Unlike various reports I have heard, the vast majority of the Irons traveling support did not join in with the Royals fans baying for Pardew’s dismissal, but believe me, the temptation was great for each and everyone of us.

Makeshift defence

The obvious fear about the team that started the game was the makeshift look about the defence. Hayden Mullins and the poorly performing Malky in central defence is enough to give anybody the jitters, and the newly acquired Shaun Newton also had to start down the right due to Tom’s suspension. In midfield, there was Lomas and Fletch in the middle, with the returning Mark Noble down the right and Matty down the left. Teddy was left on the bench and Marlon and Z-man started up front.

From the outset it was clear that they were up for this much more than we were. On 4 minutes with the chants of “Pardew out” and “Stand up if you hate Pardew” ringing around the ground, a corner by Little saw a poor clearance by arrive at the feet of Newman. He hit a sweet volley which beat the diving Bywater hands down, but the ball hit the foot of the post square on and bounced out.

On 9 minutes, Shaun Newton – who looked quite decent coming forward but indifferent in his defensive duties today – hit a nice crossfield pass, which probably amounted to the sum total of passes completed by West Ham in the entire first half.

Set piece mugging No. 1

Then on 13 minutes the first set piece mugging of the day took place. A free kick was awarded to the left of the penalty box right in front of the West Ham fans. The so-called offence looked like a con of the linesman by Morgan under a challenge from Malky. Shorey stood up and hit a good free kick but Mullins was effortlessly out jumped by the ginger headed Kitson to nod powerfully down and into the goal at point blank range.

This was hopeless defending and there has to be some real questions asked about the wisdom of putting Mullins in that position in the first place. He may be inexperienced, but surely Elliot Ward would have brought some much needed height into the defence and Mullins has hardly been showing much of late to justify inclusion.

The next passage of play saw us largely under siege as Morgan, Little and Kitson all looked dangerous every time they got the ball to feet. Reading were passing the ball around fluently, unlike West Ham whose answer was the aimless hoof upfield. The one exception was a nice ball from Noble out to Chris Powell on 23 minutes, but Marlon made a complete mess of a free header from Powell’s cross. It went sideways instead of goalwards.

Set piece mugging No. 2

Three minutes later we were two down after a corner was won immediately after Kitson had what looked like a good shout for a penalty after Bywater dived at his feet. The corner from the right was provided by Shorey and he found the head of Morgan who was far quicker to react than the lethargic Malky. Kitson was waiting at the back post and lunged forward to head it into the net over Shaun Newton who was defending the far post.

This second goal led to a new anti-Pardew chant from the Reading fans, “You’re worse than Mark McGhee” (Reading’s manager in the early 1990’s). This was totally the wrong chant in my view. If it had been, “You’re worse than Lou Macari”, I might have joined in.

Marlon failed again with a header on 33 minutes following a corner and the main answer we had to continued Reading pressure was to punt the ball forward with no particular objective in mind at all. The ball kept coming back at us, but Reading’s style was about accurate, quick passes that had us floundering and consequently winning a succession of corners (eight in the first half compared to our two). They were coming at us down both flanks and we were struggling to contain them.

Saved by the whistle

The whistle for half time was a relief, as I am not sure that we would have held on for much longer. West Ham were simply not playing anything resembling football. The only response to Reading was the long ball, and Zamora in particular was having one of those days where his touch had deserted him. The typical ball went high and long, Z-man failed to hold it and Reading would build for another break. We had no width in our game and Matty in particular looked totally disinterested in the game. On the few occasions when he got the ball, he had no desire whatsoever to try and take the defender on.

Fletch – who had taken a knock in the first half – was replaced at half time by Chadders and it was him that showed something a little more encouraging on 50 minutes when he made a good run, but his shot was straight at the Reading keeper Hahnemann. But Chadders than turned from hero to zero a minute later as he failed to make a pass which sent Reading on an incisive break. Little, who just could not be handled today by our defence, made a clever pass which left Sidwell clear on goal, but he blasted wastefully over.

How much time does he need?

West Ham managed another rare shot on goal on 53 minutes after Marlon hit a first time ball following a chest down by Zamora, but three minutes later Zamora dwelt on a ball too long in the centre circle to allow another Reading attack down the right flank. Mullins had to clear a dangerous cross from almost under the crossbar.

Any hope of a revival – and that hope was minuscule given the inept and insipid first half performance - was snuffed out three minutes short of the hour, when West Ham got caught down the right. Morgan got free and hit a powerful shot which Bywater did well to stop, but on the second time of asking Kitson got hold of the loose ball to smash it into the back of the net.

Almost from the restart, Matty went close with a shot as the ball came out to him outside the box following some good work by Chadders and Marlon. He looked very disappointed to miss the target, but that just about summed up his day, which looked very similar to his poor performance against Preston.

Marlon goes missing

Zamora, whose contribution had been virtually non-existent, was replaced on 61 minutes by Teddy, but this was a change that was hardly going to get us anywhere near on terms. He did manage a nice through ball on 65 minutes to find Marlon free, but he hit an appalling sliced shot when he had found some space. This was one of the worst displays I have seen from Marlon and with no spark of inspiration anywhere, the team just looked completely demoralised.

It could have easily been 4-0 on 72 minutes as Kitson was allowed to find space again from another corner. He was having one of the easiest days this season and we were doing absolutely nothing about it. This time, however, Bywater saved well down low although for one split second it looked that the ball would spill out. Kitson broke free again on 73 minutes, but Bywater saved again.

Unlikely goal

Mark Noble – who has not looked as good as he did prior to his injury – managed a shot on goal on 78 minutes and with eight minutes of normal time left Teddy popped up with an unlikely goal as Newton ran into the box and Marlon had a shot blocked. He hit the rebound sweetly into the bottom right hand corner.

Elliot Ward was thrown on as an extra striker for a final assault, when in reality he should have come on at half time to try and put some height into our besieged defence. Surely Pardew knew what to expect from the likes of Shorey and co. If he didn’t the first half gave him a bit of a clue.

It was all too late and a miserable game came to an end just after a few of the traveling fans gave a rather pitiful chorus of “Paolo di Canio”. I’m not sure what sparked that, but it felt like a half-hearted attempt to inject some cheer into a dire afternoon. A distant memory of happier times when we used to be entertained rather than put on suicide watch. It had the effect of depressing me further as it just seemed to underline the gulf - a Grand Canyon - in class between the silky skills of the Italian master and the absolute garbage that was served up today.

It could have been worse

It would have not been a surprise if we had gone down by five or six today, as Reading certainly had the chances. Prior to Xmas, I felt that Pardew had lost the plot, but there was also little doubt that the club was in no position to do anything about the floundering manager. Once again, the ‘Micawber strategy’ (“Something will turn up”) of the Brown regime has been exposed for all to see. To misquote Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - and like Dud, I say this with all the dignity I can muster - “Is this a way to run a f*cking football club?” We now have ten games left to try and rescue something out of this season, but we have all the signs of being in free fall.

On the way back from the game, we heard the usual classic defence of Pardew on the radio phone-ins, which is all about the “unrealistic” expectations of the fans and the fact that the club has lost all of its talent. Well, the West Ham fans I know are not unrealistic. What they want to see is decent passing football. They want to see a decent squad of players actually perform to their undoubted abilities. They want to see some spirit and fight, some emotion in the team. They also want to see a leader on the park, someone taking responsibility.

Emotion? That is illogical, Captain

Funnily enough, the departure of Kevin Keegan raises an interesting point here. Simply put, some of the debate has been about whether football has changed to the degree that emotion is no longer enough, as successful football clubs require technical ability and the right system. The answer is probably that you need to have both. Pardew to me – and this was evident in the po-faced interview he gave after the game – sounds like Spok. He’s like an extra from I, Robot.

For f*ck’s sake Alan, put the text books away and inject some spirit into the team. You don’t look angry enough to me and you need to stick some posters up on the wall of Julian Dicks, Billy Bonds and Stuart Pearce. It’s time to kick ar*e. “Moore than just a football club” just doesn’t do it for me.

As for that other point about the club losing its talent and still being in recovery mode, the time for that excuse has long passed. It’s the footballing equivalent of Tony Blair blaming the continuing ills of the nation on the Thatcher Government. We’ve moved on and we deserve a lot better performance from the resources at the manager’s disposal than the clueless, dismal exhibition we had to suffer today.

(Player ratings by Gordon Thrower)

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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.