Reading: Federici (8); Harte (6), Mariappa (7), Pearce (8), Gunter (7); McAnuff (7), Leigertwood (7), Karacan (8), Guthrie (7), Kebe (7); Pogrebnyak (7) Subs: Hunt (7), Robson-Kanu (7)
Reading went into the game unchanged, hardly surprising given the recent upturn in performances against City and Swansea. The move to 4-5-1 has certainly given Reading a lot more stability and it's been good to see off field disputes laid to rest and Danny Guthrie and Alex Pearce included on merit.
The other player who's been given a new lease of life recently is Pavel Pogrebnyak and the Russian forward couldn't have wished for a better start as an underhit backpass from James Collins sent the Pog clean through with the striker clamly finishing. It's the second time Collins has gifted a team such a goal, after a similar gaffe against Swansea at the start of the season and Reading were more than happy to get a slice of good luck for a change.
An early lead played right into Reading's hands as our 4-5-1 was perfectly suited to counter West Ham's direct attacks. Pearce and Adrian Mariappa were immense throughout the game, effectively repelling the physical threat posed by Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole.
However, the Royals were guilty of giving West Ham far too many cheap free-kicks, with the erratic and inconsistant Michael Oliver usually only to happy to oblige and blow up. Time and time again the ball was thrown into the Reading box but only once did it really cause a problem, with the ever improving Federici able to tip Collins effort over the bar.
The second half continued the pattern of the first, with Reading defending doggedly and West Ham pumping ball after ball into our territory. There were a few breakaways for Reading, with Leigertwood and Karacan both guilty of playing the wrong balls when bursting through but Jussi Jaaskelainen was rarely troubled in the Hammers goal. The only time he had to worry, he was well beaten as Jem Karacan's effort smashed the underside of the bar and Jimmy Kebe failed to find the target with the rebound.
Despite our solid defending, West Ham should have picked up a point late on when substitute Ricardo Vaz Te found himself in acres of space 5 yards out, only to send his header just wide of the post. From the East Stand I'd assumed he'd been flagged offside as I saw no way he could have missed it. Thankfully the video screen allowed us to see that he'd missed... again, and again.
Otherwise there's not an awful lot to report on, other than a serious of niggly fouls from West Ham's players that reminds me exactly why beating them is so satisfying. Kevin Nolan really has to be my most loathed player in the Premier League and Carlton Cole may well find himself punished by the video panel after two off the ball incidents, the first with Alex Pearce and the second what looked like a stamp on a prone Chris Gunter.
The final whistle brought much relief and a vital three points and while we're still five points away from safety, it's given us something to take forward into the new year.
Performance wise and Adam Federici seems to be growing in confidence game on game. He only had a couple of saves to make, but he had to come and claim plenty of tricky high balls and never looked shaky. If we're to stay up we're going to need the very best from the Australian and hopefully he's getting back to that level now.
Ian Harte was OK, though missed out on a couple of headers that allowed Matty Taylor to run through. While Nicky Shorey had been a bit shaky in the last couple of games I felt he'd been our best player this season and his dropping was slightly premature. Still, with Harte in the team we haven't conceded in the last three games and if he's helping the team win games, he can stay as long as he likes.
Chris Gunter was also solid, supporting Kebe well and doing the dirty work when he had too. Questions remain about the former Forest right-back but hopefully he'll get better and better as he plays more games in a settled side.
As mentioned Pearce and Mariappa were both excellent, with Pearce just shading it ratings wise. I'm glad the club have decided to end this contract related exile and while I still think he'll end up elsewhere, if he helps us stay up it'll be worth driving up the demand for his services. It's the defensive partnership the majority of fans had wanted from the start and I only hope it's not too late for it to work.
Midfield wise and the trio of Karacan, Guthrie and Leigertwood all put in hard working shifts despite seeing little of the ball. Leigertwood was what you'd expect, nipping the ball away from the opposition but sadly giving it away far too often. Guthrie also put himself about without seeing much of the ball and Jem Karacan was an absolute bundle of energy, causing all sorts of problems for West Ham and you can see how much we've missed him over the past few months. Guthrie was sacrificed for Hunt late on and you could understand why as the ball was just getting pumped over the midfield from both teams. He got a good ovation from the fans and he's slowly rebuilding bridges at the club.
Jobi McAnuff as also his usual self, working hard defensively and causing a few problems when he cut in from the byline. I'd questioned on Twitter whether it was time to try someone else on the left but few could have done any better in this game. Jimmy Kebe also had a good match, putting in one of his best defensive displays and also looking a threat going forward. He got some pretty rough treatment from the West Ham players and was limping a bit as he came off, hopefully it's nothing serious.
I might as well repeat the phrase I've used all through this report as Pogrebnyak also worked hard as the lone frontman. I'm still not convinced he's perfect for that role but right now he does seem the best option. His goal showed exactly what he can do when given chances and he also put in a nice finish for a second, that was rightly ruled off for offside. He's not a Shane Long that's going to nip about everywhere, but he's happy to put in a tackle and does seem to care about the club, rather than sulking about the pitch waiting for relegation.
Subs wise and Noel Hunt gave it his all as usual. He won some good headers and almost set up a chance with his first touch. Hal Robson-Kanu didn't have much to do but did what was needed, holding the ball up well in the corner.
A quick word on our opponents and I don't think they'll be in any relegation trouble this year. Bar a moment of madness from Collins they looked solid and they've got plenty of options in their squad. It's hard to like any Sam Allardyce team but you can't argue against the fact that he knows how to gets team organised and get results at this level. Sadly no West Ham manager seems to get the better of Reading.
As mentioned in the introduction this wasn't a pretty game and this wasn't one we'll remember fondly as a thriller but I doubt I'm alone in being pretty happy with a pedestrian 1-0 win after some of these 'thrilling' high scoring defeats we've had to sit through this season.
The team is still a good player or two from being able to consistently perform at this level but what this result has done is give us a platform to build on. 36 points should be enough to stay up and if so that means we need 23 from the next 18 games. Seven wins and two draws, or six and five isn't impossible given our home fixtures to come but it still leaves such little margin for error that I feel we've left it too late. Still, nobody will be happier than me to be wrong and a point or better at Spurs on New Years Day would be a great start in that quest.
Regardless of what 2013 brings, yesterday was a nice way to end 2012, a year that will always be remembered fondly.