The heavens opened above Upton Park just before yesterday's match got under way, and by the time the referee Uriah Rennie blew his final whistle the home players continued to resemble drowning men as a first-minute snap-shot from Reading's Seol Ki Hyeon consigned them to their fifth successive defeat.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the recent arrival of their Argentine acquisitions Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, West Ham continue to be far less than the sum of their parts. Where once there was harmony, now there is hesitation, and the manager Alan Pardew was a bemused figure after watching his team lose to the side he used to manage.
"We had enough chances to get three goals today," Pardew said. "We just can't seem to get the ball into the net. I just feel for the team at the moment. I can't remember a time in my managerial career seeing so many chances going [begging] as I have in the last four games. Experience tells me it will change."
West Ham will have a two-week break now, and they appear to need it. It will at least enable them to welcome back one or two injured parties, notably Anton Ferdinand, whose reappearance will steady a back-four with which Pardew is still unhappy.
Tevez laboured doggedly until he was substituted for Teddy Sheringham in the 71st minute, and with a little more luck he might have opened his account for his new team. But he still spent much of his time gesturing belatedly at his new team-mates, or kicking the air in frustration. The arrival of Sheringham and Bobby Zamora, who replaced Carlton Cole at the same time, had an immediate beneficial effect - it was like switching a labouring car into the correct gear.
Sheringham's first significant touch, switching play acutely from right to left with a far-sighted ball out to Matthew Etherington, drew a roar of mingled acclaim and relief from a home crowd clearly determined to offer their team maximum support despite their recent miserable run.
Sheringham was involved in the injury-time move which looked likely to bring West Ham their first goal in five matches - ironically, he threw the Reading back four by misjudging the flight of an incoming pass which allowed Yossi Benayoun to lob the ball over the keeper in a goalward direction. However, Reading's unsettled midfielder Steve Sidwell, rushing back to cover, managed to head the ball over his own bar.
Just as they were when Pardew was guiding their fortunes three years ago, Reading - now marshalled by the estimable Steve Coppell - were well organised and highly competent. The way in which they defended the lead gifted to them so early in the game offered their increasingly carefree supporters genuine hope that they will not be returning straight back to the Championship next season.
Seol's goal owed much to loose marking by the otherwise excellent Benayoun. Accepting a short free-kick five yards outside the West Ham box, the South Korean tracked left and then right with the ponderousness of a computer-game player, but because the Israeli stood off him he was able to wind up for a shot which flew into the top left-hand corner of Roy Carroll's net. It was the only shot on target the visitors mustered all afternoon.
Coppell resisted the invitation to offer his managerial predecessor any advice, as he did the suggestion that if his side continued to play as they were he might have difficulty managing soaring levels of expectation at the Madejski Stadium.
"We have no expectation other than trying to win the next game," said Coppell. "The supporters are good in that respect, too. They are enjoying our trip, however long it might last."
On this evidence Reading's fans are in for an extended magical mystery tour in the top flight. As for West Ham, whose frustration was evidenced by three late bookings, the situation is in danger of turning from a drama into a crisis.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Spector, Dailly, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun, Mullins, Reo-Coker (Harewood, 84), Etherington; Cole (Zamora, 71), Tevez (Sheringham, 71). Substitutes not used: Green (gk), Mascherano.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; De La Cruz, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Seol (Hunt, 79), Sidwell, Harper, Convey (Gunnarsson, 74); Lita (Long, 66), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Bikey.
Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).
Bookings: Reading Seol, Long; West Ham Carroll, Sheringham, Konchesky.
Man of the match: Mullins.
Attendance: 34,872.Reuse content