Reading 0, West Ham United 3: Bellamy runs riot in aid of Curbishley's solid crew

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The Independent Online

Assembling a cast that now includes the likes of Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer and demanding a low-key production might well be akin to hosting a chimps' party and putting up a sign reading "no spillage", but that is exactly what Alan Curbishley is after. In short, he wants a "solid" season for West Ham, a "nice season". Dare one suggest it, a "boring" season, even.

"The last four years as a West Ham fan you've had a play-off final and lost, a play-off final and won, an FA Cup final and lost and a relegation battle and won," explained the manager. "It's been really topsy-turvy. So I just think we need a nice solid season to lay the foundations for pushing on."

Bellamy could just be unwilling in this regard, as the Welshman does solid like a rock does fluid. On afternoons such as Saturday's he is everything in motion; fleet-footed, sharp-shooting, quick-witted. His early strike was evidence of the first two qualities, while the latter was given the perfect airing in the sumptuous one-two for Matthew Etherington's first goal. That Bellamy did not figure in the left-winger's second deep into injury time was probably only due to the fact he had just been substituted.

"Since he's been here I haven't had a minute's problem with him," said Curbishley. In contrast, Reading had just experienced 90 of the blighters. This was West Ham's ninth league win in the last 13 games, form that not even the Champions League qualifiers can boast. No wonder that Curbishley was happy enough to sit in the same chair where eight months ago he complained about the "baby Bentley culture" and this time thank his patched-up side for an effort that was a veritable charabanc in its unity.

He understood that the exorcism of that New Year's Day 6-0 reversal would be the central theme and that the forwards would be receiving all the credit. But Curbishley was keen to stress the importance of a defence that did not buckle and, in particular, of the goalkeeper, Robert Green, whose saving of Kevin Doyle's penalty was the highlight of a faultless performances.

"Not conceding on the road is what it's all about," remarked Curbishley. He said so in the realisation that, very soon, it is highly likely the home teams will start figuring out his burgeoning away-day specialists and try to curb West Ham's counter-attacking mayhem.

As Curbishley said, "there is still plenty of pace left on the treatment table" and when Julien Faubert returns, and much, much later, the hapless Kieron Dyer, those incisors will be sharpened still further.

Even when Reading eventually got wise, there was not a lot they could do about it and others will similarly struggle. The sights of a full-strength West Ham should be set on the top-half of the table.

In the neighbouring dug-out, Steve Coppell muttered about "alarm bells ringing early" and was surprisingly candid about his team's shortcomings. Naturally, the second-season theory is being bandied around, although, in all truth, if anything has unsettled this once happy ship, it has been those rough waters of the transfer market.

Reading might have remained all but inactive in terms of the actual dealing, but in the wheeling they were full, if unwilling players. Ironically, it was West Ham's "derisory offer" for Nicky Shorey which apparently stoked the discontentment. While welcoming the retention of the England left-back, a few individuals began questioning the club's ambition, which in turn led Coppell to start wondering why.

Whatever, he is simply relieved to have this two-week gap to the next game to haul it all back on track and "to put these last two 3-0ers behind us".

West Ham have proved that things can be fixed and be fixed rather quickly. Mind you, millions of pounds do help, as can a friendly Football Association ruling. And the occasional Bellamy, of course. Solid he will never be, an Upton Park hero he already is. One of football's lost boys could have at last found his home.

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