Yesterday's performance from start to finish was dire. It is true that Reading only scored when we went down to 10 men, but it has been said often enough that playing against 10 men can be harder than playing against 11, if the 10 are committed, passionate and organised. Ours weren't.
To go a goal down immediately, with Reading exploiting the loss of our right back so obviously and deliberately, was shameful. It is true that McAnuff set up the goal superbly, but we were at sixes and sevens, without a two, when we should have been rock solid. Where was Captain Kev? Too busy chuntering at the officials and stewing.
From that point, we were a total shambles. Allardyce apologists will say that Piquionne stayed on because we needed an equaliser, but we were all over the place because we were a man short in midfield. Cole was on by this stage, a very untimely replacement for Diop as it happened, but we couldn't get the ball to him. The second goal came from a cross from our left, but we were wide open down the right, with Church totally unmarked once the cross had sailed over the flailing Green. Then came the second red and it was curtains. But why was Carew on for Piquionne when we were so obviously unable to get hold of the ball?
Kebe's piss take said it all. We had ten men on the pitch at that stage but it looked like we had seven! And who's fault was that? Allardyce's for not changing things as soon as the first red card was shown. Allardyce's for setting up to contain for the first hour rather than trying to win the match. Allardyce's for building a squad of lumbering players who couldn't outpace a tortoise dragging an HGV. And Captain Kev's for disappearing from the game at half time.
So was this a freak result? No. Nothing changed yesterday, except our luck ran out. Without Baldock, we have no pace in the team. Without Taylor, we have nobody who can cross the ball or deliver a set piece. Without Diop we have nobody protecting the back four, and with Diop we have no creativity in midfield. This is a team without flair, without imagination, without creativity and, most worrying of all, without pace.
Why was O'Brien sent off? Because McAnuff, hugging the touch line, took him on, going round him on the outside and the Irishman was drawn in to a foul. When did a West Ham player try to run past a Reading player? At one point in the first half, Faubert received the ball on the edge of the Reading box, their left back five yards away standing in the penalty area. A burst of speed would have drawn a challenge and the possibility of a penalty, but Faubert froze and passed the ball sideways. That moment said it all. Faubert is not a right back but he certainly is not at home in the front three of a 4-3-3 formation either. He is hopeless in front of goal and does not read the game, always reacting to situations rather than predicting them. The confidence to take players on isn't there. Where is the electric pace we were promised when we signed him?
We may bludgeon our way to a few more victories but opposition managers will look at this game and realise that West Ham are like the Emperor's New Clothes: if you stop believing the hype, you realise that there's nothing there - we are devoid of true ability and Allardyce, like Osborne, is clueless when it comes to Plan B. Carew, Piquionne, Cole? What alternative do the three offer? Noble, Nolan, Collison? Where is the pace? Where is the dribbler able to go past an opponent and so take him out of the game? Where is the alternative for Taylor on the left? 4-4-2 doesn't work for Allardyce, but 4-3-3 and 4-3-2 and 4-2-2 (all of which we saw yesterday) don't work either!
Lansbury is now our only hope. Can he offer the flair this team is screaming out for? If not, we will be sucked back into the pack before the window opens, and if Sullivan and Gold prevaricate before opening the wallet, we could struggle to reach the playoffs. We used up our luck in November. Now we have to start winning on merit - and in a meritocracy, this team are going to struggle!