Reading 0 West Ham United 3

Saturday, 1st September 2007
by Gordon Thrower

Another week and another match against a club with a lying hypocrite for a chairman. Though the town is easy to get to, Reading away is a horrible trip.

Everything about the club is contrived from the made-up nickname ("let's call ourselves the Royals because our Biscuitmen nickname is sooooooo old-fashioned"), to the Meccano stadium plonked inconveniently in the middle of an out-of town retail site. The town of Reading itself isn't the greatest of places but it does have one redeeming feature. (Well two if you count the fact that a fast train can take you somewhere better in 30 minutes).

The best thing about an away trip to this place is the fact that the Three Guineas pub by the station is designated as "away supporters only". Since the Three Guineas has a decent selection of real ales, I presume that home supporters are barred to avoid them having to drink something real rather than the synthetic creamiflow fizz that most pubs churn out these days. However, in keeping with the tone of the day, the glasses were plastic. As you may have read, the away section of the ground was "dry" on the petty and illogical grounds that a few people had stood up at last season's match. Those who have suffered the watered-down rubbish served up in the bars at these places might be forgiven for thinking that the place had been alcohol-free for years.

Reading supporters often complain that they're not taken seriously by supporters of "proper" clubs. If they want to know why perhaps they should look at the way that everything they do has to be choreographed. Pre-match they require geeing up by a video selection of their greatest goals, many of which appear to have been those oh-so-difficult to score penalties. At an appropriate moment they emit a strange grunt - I expect the video has one of those subliminal microsecond-long projections that says "grunt now" at the appropriate moment.

Team news was that there were a couple of changes required from the midweek League Cup tie. Bowyer came in for the unfortunate Dyer - to whom the best wishes of all at Kumb towers are sent, whilst up front, Mrs Ashton having finally dropped (no sense of timing these women), Deano was available for a first start of the season. Zamora failed to make the 16 having picked up a knock to the knee leaving us with a starting line-up of Green. Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Noble, Mullins, Bowyer, Etherington, Ashton, Bellamy.

The early exchanges were mainly notable for the attempts of the laughably poor Lita to see precisely how many yellow card offences he could get away with before referee Webb noticed. He managed three in less than a minute, firstly shoving Neill off the pitch, following this up with a blatant hand to the face, the hat-trick being completed by the most comical of dives, there being daylight between him and his marker at the time of the dive. Webb fell for this dive but that was the first and last time he did so - though why one of the supposedly better referees in the league failed to apply the statutory sanction for simulation on the tediously high number of occasions Lita threw himself forward, Webb alone knows.

The match settled down into a pattern. Reading had a fair bit of possession but lacked any sort of cutting edge against a defence that was looking at its strongest for quite some time. On the break we looked dangerous with Bellamy in particular looking full of running and the Welsh skipper was the source of the opener on six minutes. Bowyer intercepted a loose ball in a central area and fed Bellamy in an inside right area. Bellamy ran unchallenged and shot home superbly from the edge of the box, his low drive sneaking in at the foot of the far post. Unprompted by any instruction from cheerleaders or Mickey Mouse music we celebrated a bit in the away end. As you do.

The lead could have been doubled on 12 minutes. Ashton's dangerous looking cross had been cleared by Duberry. Matty E's corner was cleared back to him and his second cross found Deano in space only for him to volley into the ground with Hahnemann able to deal with the shot in comfortable manner.

Up the other end a Harper shot was deflected wide for a corner that was dealt with easily. Hunt's dangerous cross was cleverly cleared by Linda, the resulting corner again being dealt with without any cause for concern. A deep free-kick was then gathered by Green, whose throw out to Matty E on the left was excellent. In fact, the throw was so good that Matty E didn't have to break his stride as he raced into space down the left and squared the ball across the edge of the box. Noble's effort however went into the proverbial Row Z when a bit more composure in front of goal might have gained proper reward for what had been an otherwise fine break.

Etherington seemed to be having a busy spell and might have got on the scoresheet when Hahnemann spilled Linda's cross from the left only for the winger to poke the ball harmlessly wide.

Duberry then headed wide - Lita tried to get on the end of it from an offside position but his dive - his first legal one of the day - missed by several feet. Looking dangerous again on the break Bellamy's blocked effort fell out to Linda whose shot looked goalbound before being cleared for a corner. Apparently Linda has yet to notch a senior goal - something the long-odds specialists amongst you might want to note for your pre-match bets. If the bet comes off I'm on 20% ok?

The corner that resulted from Linda's effort was cleared to the edge of the box where Bowyer seemed to take one touch too many when a first time effort might have been better advised, his shot going harmlessly wide.

Up the other end Reading went closest when Hunt's effort clipped the top of the bar in one of those that "looks good but isn't going in" moments and the half ended without further incident.

The half-time entertainment consisted of some bloke doing ball juggling skills. On these occasions, I always find myself hoping for a Ruddock-esque figure to run onto the pitch to kick the juggler up in the air before launching the ball into the crowd with a shout of "ave it". Once more I was disappointed, though I live in hope of seeing this happen before I die. The Reading announcer, presumably having overdosed on extra-strength caffeine-loaded coffee, tried to gee the home support up before the second half. He had earlier announced that the Reading Fans were no.13 in the squad - and hilariously they are listed as such in the programme - I'm not making this up honest! And some of you complain at Jeremy!

Duly entertained, the second half stared and it wasn't long before we had doubled the lead. A Reading corner was cleared by Matty U as far as Matty E who brought the ball out before finding Bellamy in a central position. Bellamy immediately switched play out to the right where Mullins found himself in more space than a plague victim with a personal hygiene problem. Mullins held up play before finding Etherington whose first time one-two with Bellamy left him clear on goal to stick the ball away in the roof of the net for his first goal since the time when there wasn't actually a sale on at Allied Carpets. It was a fine goal - the sort of good footballing goal that never wins Goal of the Month - but ought to. Given the setting, it reminded me of the fine drink I had enjoyed in the company of Bonehead at the Three Guineas - it was real ale in a plastic cup.

Of course having put up with so much rubbish from Reading supporters over the years the away support, who had been in fine voice throughout, were going to milk it and left back Shorey was given a few gentle reminders as to where he ought to have gone during the transfer window (though given the poor performance of his team-mates the answer "anywhere" would presumably have fitted the bill as far as he was concerned).

Green then picked up a yellow card for time wasting - a joke really given all the antics of Lita up to that point. Bellamy then fed Bowyer who curled his shot wide when he ought to have made it 3-0. For some reason the linesman had his flag up though there was no offside involved at any stage.

Ashton was then replaced by Cole to generous applause. Cole's earliest contribution of note was a ball to play Matty E in, the winger failing to get enough power on his shot - though it still required a decent save from Hahnemann to keep it at 2-0, a score on which, if the chant is to be believed, Matty may have had a bet.

Lita may also have been on 2-0 judging by his poke wide following a Doyle step-over. However, things could have been a little tense at the end when we gave away a penalty with 15 minutes left on the now battery-full lucky watch. Sub Kitson, burst into the box and was brought down by Green who might have been a tad faster off his line. It was a carbon copy of the kick won by Bellamy at St Andrews and, rightly, there were no complaints at its award. A few Reading fans started the "off" chant but, given that it had taken a substitution to get rid of the appalling antics of Lita, a sending off for Green would have been bonkers in the extreme. Doyle stepped up and Green saved superbly to his left, thus denying the home support of the chance to grunt at the video at the appropriate moment when they do next season's pre-match brainwashing. It also meant we were spared the sound of Mickey Mouse music played after a goal.

With 10 left Bowyer was replaced by Spector. Linda's covering then prevented Kitson getting on the end of a through ball from Convey. We looked as if we might break again from the corner but the resulting attack fizzled out with Bellamy drawing a foul. The resulting free kick was taken quickly and Cole turned his defender only to shoot wide, the striker having a bit more time than he probably thought.

We continued to look good coming out of defence. Linda fed Bellamy who, in turn, fed Cole only for him to see his shot saved by Hahnemann's legs. Another shot that required a bit more in the way of power. Cole did well to pick out Spector in the box though the cross left the septic with too much to do with the header. Another break saw Etherington break into the box but his attempt to find Cole was cut out. The corner was taken short and Hunt, who had taken over the mantle of "irritating git" from Lita, was a bit lucky to find himself still on the pitch having aimed a punch towards Bellamy. A bit of a girly punch it has to be said but a punch nevertheless. Hunt benefited from Webb's leniency.

One minute into stoppage Bellamy - who apparently had been doubtful for the match - left to be replaced by Boa-Morte. Reading's last effort was to see Green block Kitson's effort with some good follow-up blocking thrown in by Upson for good measure. By this time wide open spaces had begun to appear in the home crowd - it hadn't been full to start off with by any stretch of the imagination. Those who had left had obviously taken a few players with them as Cole came out of defence to find Matty E in more space than a plague victim with a personal hygiene problem carrying a bag of plutonium for good measure. This time he elected to shoot from just outside the box and, like Bellamy's similar effort in the first half, the ball flew in gloriously inside the far post. The Reading no.13 shook its collective head as it walked out - and is probably annoyed that it didn't get a move before the transfer deadline - though no doubt they have an escape clause that will kick in should they go down.

That was it - apart from the interminable wait for shuttle buses to turn up, it apparently coming as a surprise to those in charge that the people who they had ferried to the ground from the station might actually want to make the return journey at some stage. Such are the perils of building a ground on an out of town retail-park. Reading clearly missed a trick though in letting Pompey sign Glen Johnson - surely the presence of a B&Q warehouse on site would have been a deal-clincher!

This was a fine away performance. The margin of victory could, with a bit more composure, have easily been doubled. The team looked good as a unit, especially defensively, and it will be interesting to see where the absentees and new signings are going to fit in when fit/available. Five wins on the trot in all competitions is decent away form by any standards, and a return to some semblance of decency at home might leave even the most pessimistic of Hammers - and let's face it that's most of us - with cause for cautious optimism. Bring on Boro'!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Generally solid though a knock seemed to restrict him a bit in the second half. Fine penalty save - if only he hadn't given it away to start off with!

Lucas Neill
Another good one from the skipper who could easily have found himself wound-up by Lita's antics - but didn't.

George McCartney
An excellent match from Linda who defended well and got forward on the break to support the attack. The chant of "you should have come to West Ham" aimed at Shorey should have contained a line referring to the need to be Linda's deputy on this form.

Anton Ferdinand
Outstanding. Just shows what one can do with a bit of concentration and the intelligence to deal with things as simply as possible. Won just about everything against Lita.

Matthew Upson
Is this a defensive partnership I see developing before me? Hope so. Won some important headers.

Hayden Mullins
Another one of those unsung hero performances that, whilst they don't catch the eye, are so important for the side.

Mark Noble
Circumstances dictated a more defensive role for the youngster today. Not found wanting - though he ought to have had a goal in the first half.

Lee Bowyer
One of the few disappointments on the day - fine ball for the first goal but little else that he tried subsequently came off. Another who should have scored.

Matthew Etherington
Two fine goals after a goal-free spell that lasted over a season. Bonehead is convinced he won't get another this season. A pint says he will!

Craig Bellamy
Lots of running and at the heart of most that was good about our play on the break. Fine goal.

Dean Ashton
The only other real disappointment on the day - not quite ready yet but the minutes under his belt will help.


Carlton Cole
(replaced Ashton, 64) Surprisingly half-decent run-out - though he perhaps ought to have bagged a couple.

Jonathan Spector
(replaced Bowyer, 81) Solid enough in replacing Bowyer.

Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Bellamy, 90) Not really on for long enough to register on the radar.

Richard Wright
Did not play.

Danny Gabbidon
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Craig Bellamy, Dean Ashton.

Goals: Craig Bellamy 6 Matthew Etherington 48 Matthew Etherington 90              .

Booked: Robert Green 55          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Reading: Hahnemann, Murty, Shorey, Ingimarsson, Duberry, Fae, Harper, Gunnarson, Hunt, Lita, Doyle.

Subs not used: Federici, Bikey.

Goals: .

Booked: None booked..

Sent off: None.

Referee: H.Webb.

Attendance: 23,533.

Man of the Match: Anton Ferdinand.