The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” boomed out at the final whistle, which was fitting enough, but the DJ must have been tempted to reach for the theme tune for The Great Escape.
That was West Bromwich Albion’s anthem when they became the only Premier League team to survive being bottom at Christmas and eight years on Reading hope it is ripe for a revival.
The Royals are still in trouble but off the bottom after securing their second win of the season in their 20th game. Though five points adrift of safety successive clean sheets have provided an injection of hope.
They will not, though, find many more accommodating opponents than James Collins, whose scuffed back-pass gifted Pavel Pogrebnyak the fifth-minute winner, and Ricardo Vaz Te, who spurned the chance to equalise when he headed wide of an open goal.
Reading’s desperation for points was evident. Cheered by a home support more interested in the end than the means they headed for the corner flag to waste time with five minutes still remaining in this scrappy contest. When the whistle finally went the relief was evident in the stands and on the pitch. “It was a real resilient performance,” said Reading manager Brian McDermott. “It was a physical game but we matched them. It gives us a lot of confidence.”
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said: “James Collins makes a basic error, they take advantage, then Vaz Te misses the easiest chance you will ever see. You make mistakes like that you lose matches.”
Collins, he added, would not even be able to atone for the error on Tuesday as, like Kevin Nolan, he will be suspended after being booked yesterday.
The centre-half was perhaps too relaxed as he handed Reading their first goal in more than three hours’ football after four minutes. Like much of the match it was an error-strewn affair. Pogrebnyak (below) failed to control Ian Harte’s chipped pass and the ball ran to Collins whose casual back-pass was catastrophically under-hit.
The Russian converted the chance with a composure that belied a two-month drought since his last strike
It was Collins’ second such error having served Michu a similar goal at Swansea City in August. “I never thought I’d see him do it again,” said Allardyce, adding “he’s distraught, but the lads should have got him out of the mire.”
It was Collins himself who came closest to doing so in the first half, bringing a finger-tip save from Adam Federici as he met Matt Jarvis’ 24th minute cross. Otherwise football took second pace to the settling of feuds with several challenges on midfielder Jimmy Kébé, who has previous with the Hammers, setting the scene.
Ultimately referee Michael Oliver, using his yellow cards liberally, just about kept control of the match. With the hosts feeling the effects of their Boxing Day endeavours, more space appeared after the break and West Ham began to look more dangerous going forward.
Carlton Cole headed over, Federici turned Jack Collision’s shot aside then, after midfielder Jem Karacan rattled the bar in a rare Reading foray, Vaz Te somehow steered a free header from a Jarvis cross wide from four yards out. “If we score then they panic and we could easily go on to win,” said Allardyce “We don’t and we lose.”
Reading (4-2-3-1): Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Mariappa, Harte; Karacan, Leigertwood; Kébé (Robson-Kanu, 76), Guthrie (Hunt, 64), McAnuff; Pogrebnyak.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen, Tomkins, Collins, Reid, O’Brien; O’Neil (Vaz Te, 66), Noble (Maiga, 79); Taylor (Collison, 54), Nolan, Jarvis; Cole.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Pearce (Reading)
Match rating: 5/10