Church double leaves West Ham without a prayer
The Hammers miss out on a chance to go top as they crash to Reading
Reading 3 West Ham United 0
Sam Allardyce’s promotion chasers were given a right Royal reality check as they slumped to their heaviest defeat of the campaign at the Madejski Stadium.
Having collected 23 of their 40 points on the road, the second-placed Hammers kicked-off knowing that they could even have finished the afternoon at the top of the table.
But sadly for Big Sam this proved to be a bleak day in Berkshire, where substitute Simon Church bagged a double after Alex Pearce had opened the scoring midway through the second half, while there were red cards for Joey O’Brien and Jack Collison, too.
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Following the shock defeat at the hands off Burnley last Saturday that had ended his side’s seven-match unbeaten streak, Allardyce had made three changes as Papa Bouba Diop, Frederic Piquionne and Guy Demel came in for Matt Taylor (calf) plus substitutes O’Brien and Carlton Cole.
But with just two minutes on the clock, the Hammers boss was forced to introduce O’Brien after the damaged Demel was carted away on a golf buggy, having landed awkwardly while driving the ball upfield.
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Wayward long-rangers from Diop and Jimmy Kebe were the only efforts of a frenetic, error-strewn, opening 20 minutes that also saw Abdoulaye Faye cautioned for pole-axing Adam Le Fondre.
As the half-hour mark approached, Jem Karacan curled wide from 20 yards, while at the other end, lone-striker Piquionne contrived to fire Julien Faubert’s cut-back straight at Kevin Nolan, whose unfortunate block prevented a certain goal.
Collison also saw his deflected shot loop over the top and, when the Welsh international floated the consequent corner back into the six-yard box, James Tomkins headed on for Diop, whose close-range scuff was hooked off the line by Noel Hunt.
After their defeat at Blackpool last weekend, 11th-placed Reading had made two changes with Hunt and ex-Hammer Jobi McAnuff returning in place of the benched Hal Robson-Kanu, and Church.
And with a futile first 45 minutes drawing to a welcome close, only Tomkins’ timely tackle prevented Hunt from bursting through on goal, before Kebe’s cross into the six-yard box then grazed the forehead of the diving Karacan before skidding wide of the par post, to keep it goalless at the break.
With pace-setting Southampton’s 11-month, 21-match home winning streak ending with a draw against Blackpool in the lunch-time kick-off, the Hammers had needed to win by three-goals if they were to end the day at the Championship summit.
Never mind three goals, just one would have done for the vociferous visiting fans packed into the South Stand and, as the second half got underway, 4,339 Cockney cries for Cole grew louder by the second.
As West Ham’s top-scorer prepared to enter the Madejski Stadium stage, George McCartney became the second Hammer to see yellow for a foul on Kebe and, after the breaking Hunt forced Robert Green into his first meaningful save of the day, a stumbling Piquionne then saw his penalty claim waved away.
With Cole replacing Diop, Allardyce’s men looked briefly looked energised and, with the tempo rising, O’Brien and Hunt were cautioned for a 62nd-minute touchline skirmish.
And just four minutes later, substitute O’Brien’s afternoon got even worse when he collected his second booking for a poorly timed tackle on the escaping McAnuff, who wasted no time rubbing salt into the ten-man Hammers’ wounds.
Indeed, O’Brien was still disappearing down the tunnel, when the fleet-footed Reading skipper carried the consequent short free-kick into the West Ham area, before cutting the ball back to Pearce, who side-footed a low eight-yarder beyond Green and Faye on the line.
Allardyce brought on John Carew for the puffing Piquionne but it was the Reading substitute, Church, who would have a more telling impact.
On 79 minutes, the new arrival doubled the Royals’ lead when he stooped, unmarked, to nod home Le Fondre’s delicate 79th-minute chip to the far post.
Then with just four minutes remaining, the red-carded Collison joined O’Brien back in the dressing room for raking his studs down Kebe’s shin and, from Karacan’s subsequent right-wing free-kick, the soaring Welsh international got in front of Cole to glance home his fifth goal of the season.
ROYALS: Federici, Cummings, Harte, Gorkss, Pearce, Kebe (Robson-Kanu 88), McAnuff , Leigertwood, Karacan, Le Fondre, Hunt (Church 65),. Unused: Andersen, Tabb, Antonio.
HAMMERS: Green, Demel (O’Brien 4), McCartney, Faye, Tomkins, Faubert, Collison, Nolan, Noble, Diop (Cole 56), Piquionne (Carew 71). Unused subs: Stech, Sears.
Bookings: Faye (17), McCartney (53), O’Brien (62), Hunt (62).
Sent-Off: O’Brien (66), Collison (85).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick. Attendance: 24,026.