Reading 0 West Ham Utd 3: Bewitching Bellamy casts spell

Striker's masterclass allows resurgent Hammers to gain revenge for last term's thumping
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The Independent Football

A nine-goal turnaround is doubtlessly overstating the difference between the sinking mess that was West Ham at the start of the year and the buoyant force that is West Ham now. But that was not about to stop the Upton Park faithful from claiming as a watershed this emphatic expunging of the memory of last season's most embarrassing defeat.

It was New Year's Day and West Ham had arrived in Reading at the depth of their hangover. The 6-0 humiliation was to be the heaviest loss of the entire Premiership campaign. It is fair to say that yesterday was somewhat of a less sobering experience. Indeed, the performances of the scorers, Craig Bellamy and Matthew Etherington, was positively heady.

"We looked a different side to the one that turned up here in January," said Alan Curbishley, denying that revenge had been on their minds but admitting it had been sweet anyway. "This was a great result, especially after the week we've just had."

The West Ham manager was referring principally to the bad injury suffered by Kieron Dyer, which has put a further strain on already stretched resources. He should not expect too much sympathy from Steve Coppell, however, who must have watched the opposition's rock-solid defence and flying attackers like Bellamy and thought to himself: "If only."

It was the Welshman's clinical finish – his first League goal since his £7.5m move from Liverpool – from a prohibitive angle which got the Hammers rolling after Lee Bowyer caught James Harper in possession and played a through-ball. From there, the visitors quickly got on top, although Stephen Hunt must have believed he had hauled Reading level when his curling shot from the edge of the area dipped over Robert Green before crashing off the bar. That was as close as they were to come to parity because after the restart, West Ham soon doubled their advantage.

This was the beginning of a startling passage of play from Bellamy. Curbishley revealed afterwards he had a heart-to-heart with the controversial 28-year-old when he signed for the club in the summer.

"I asked him whether he was going to be remembered for his football," he said. "I told him the fans will love him and lap it up. He proved that with what he did on the pitch today."

The pass to Etherington for the second goal, in the 49th minute, was a magic moment. Credit must go to the winger for initiating and making the most of the one-two on the edge of the box, but it was the vision and weight of Bellamy's pass into the area which drew the gasps. It was an instant of class that certainly stunned Reading.

In fact, they failed to resuscitate their challenge until the final quarter, but by then the deficit should have been greater. In the 63rd minute, another piece of Bellamy wizardry played in Bowyer, who could only locate the billboards, and Etherington was not nearly so assured when firing straight at Marcus Hahnemann when presented with another one on one.

If that was commendable goalkeeping, then his opposite number was soon to eclipse it with a couple of tremendous saves. In the 76th minute, Green brought down the substitute Dave Kitson, but made instant amends when spectacularly leaping to his left to palm away Kevin Doyle's penalty. And then, in injury time, he repelled Kitson's point-blank strike.

It was only left to Etherington to apply the icing with another exquisite placement. That makes it four away League wins in a row. Amazing to think that even one seemed beyond them on their last visit to Berkshire.