The jeers were always more heartfelt than the encouragement – such has become the depth of dissatisfaction with the management of Sam Allardyce – and it hardly lowered the tone when the identification of Ricardo Vaz Te as man of the match was greeted with a mixture of stupefaction and mild scorn.
The majority of the crowd were not deriding Vaz Te, who had scored, so much as acknowledging that all legitimate candidates were from Reading: the central defenders Alex Pearce and Kaspars Gorkss, Jason Roberts and Noel Hunt up front and, above all, the wonderfully sound midfield presence that was Mikele Leigertwood.
West Ham had begun well but after half an hour they had been utterly outplayed. It seems increasingly likely Brian McDermott's side will earn an automatic return to the Premier League while West Ham are left to the anxieties of the play-offs.
Lamenting all four goals, Allardyce said of the third, a penalty converted by Ian Harte: "Instead of waiting to play our way back into the match, we shot ourselves in the foot."
The home side drew first blood and although the breakthrough was credited to Carlton Cole, much of the work was done by Kevin Nolan, who deftly fed Matt Taylor on the left flank and accelerated into the space reserved for what turned out to be a prompt and immaculate near-post cross; Nolan's header came back off the upright and Cole tucked the ball beyond Adam Federici.
West Ham thereafter suffered for a shortage of composure at both ends. They failed to make the most of chances and let in two goals in three minutes close to the interval, the latter being a horror show. The equaliser came when Harte's corner was met by Gorkss and although Nolan appeared to get his head to the ball at the same time, the greater force carried it into the net. West Ham had still to regain their concentration when Roberts went determinedly for the ball, inducing Julien Faubert to send it straight to Hunt, who, with several defenders preoccupied elsewhere, whipped a low shot past Robert Green.
There was enough time for West Ham to suffer a bit of bad luck, Abdoulaye Faye's on-target header hitting Nolan, before half-time arrived. But West Ham continued to struggle under any pressure and Faye's clumsy tackle in the area was read by Hunt, whose fall enabled Harte to stroke the kick home and give Reading a lead of two goals.
Only when Vaz Te reduced it, superbly heading in Gary O'Neil's corner, did the Bubbles Choir find their voice. And not for long, because Leigertwood drove forward and threaded a fine pass to Hunt. The striker could not control it, but West Ham assumed offside anyway and stopped, enabling Leigertwood to follow up by beating Green. McDermott was asked what a momentous win meant to Reading. "Three points," replied the commonsense manager.
West Ham (4-3-3): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Faye, McCartney; O'Neil, Noble (Collins h-t), Nolan; Vaz Te, Cole (Maynard, 71), Taylor (Baldock, 59)
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Cummings, Pearce, Gorkss, Harte; Kebe (Afobe, 82) Karacan (Tabb, 55, Robson-Kanu, 67), Leigertwood, McAnuff; Roberts, Hunt.
Referee Chris Foy.
Man of the match Leigertwood (Reading).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content