Hammers end season on a high

Posted by Peter Thorne

Kevin Nolan celebrates with Andy Carroll after putting West Ham into the lead against ReadingGettyImagesKevin Nolan celebrates with Andy Carroll after putting West Ham into the lead against Reading

"We want you to stay, we want you to stay-ay, Andy Carroll, we want you to stay"

So rang the song around the Boleyn as West Ham carried out their traditional lap-of-honour at the finish of Sunday's game. The recipient of the adulation, grinning and applauding enthusiastically, waved back to the fans and punched the air. I may be reading too much into this but I think a permanent deal for the big Geordie may well be on the cards.

- Keen: Nolan hammers final nails into Royals' coffin
- Allardyce: Carroll deal is a priority
- Nolan treble fires Hammers

Not that Carroll himself was on the score sheet following this entertaining 4-2 win over relegated Reading -- that honour went to hat-trick hero Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te -- but Andy was involved in most things on the pitch and can count at least two assists although, more likely, the better assists will go down to poor marking and comedic play by the visitors.

Since West Ham obtained ex-boss Alan Pardew from the Royals early in 2003 -- after initially being told they hadn't permission to approach the Reading boss, causing Pardew to resign to force the issue -- the Gods of Football haven't seen fit to side with the Hammers in subsequent matches against the Berkshire side. This has been an annoying irritant to Hammers fans, who'd rather save their bad karma for more larger fish -- and the aggravation between the sides made this a lively affair.

Nevertheless, West Ham should have been out of sight by half-time in a 45-minute period where they could quite easily have scored six. After a good chance from Carroll was headed just wide, the first goal came in humorous fashion after 23 minutes in one of those plays that you feel you should see more often than you actually do.

Carroll carried out the usual striker role of chasing a routine pass back to the keeper, but Alex McCarthy's clearance struck Carroll on the back as the striker turned, allowing the ball to fall nicely for Nolan to steer into the net after rounding the embarrassed McCarthy. It was a good time to score as Pavel Pogrebnyak had forced an excellent full-length save from Jussi Jaaskelainen earlier and Chris Gunter hit the side netting when he should have done better just moments before.

The Hammers were now in gear though, and moments later McCarthy had to be at his best to stop a bullet header from Carroll. The big striker didn't have to wait long for his reward though, as just minutes later, Carroll superbly pulled a cross down wide inside the area and laid it back for Vaz Te to hit home across the keeper's body. Vaz Te later hit the woodwork and Diame whistled one just under the bar as the team launched attack after attack and West Ham fans taunted the travelling supporters mercilessly.

But this is West Ham and Reading we're talking about here, and within 10 crazy minutes after half-time Reading were level. Gareth McCleary and Adam La Fondre - a half-time substitute - struck while the Hammers looked as if they were still sipping tea in the dressing room. Captain Nolan was incensed by the way his side started the half, pounding his chest to 'show heart' and urging the team on.

Reading's persistence lasted another five minutes and there were a few heart-stopping half-chances before West Ham started to get a grip back in midfield and push the visitors back.

After 79 minutes, order was restored as Nolan accepted a chip from Mark Noble and raced clear to beat McCarthy low down. Not known for his speed, it was amusing to see Nolan turning a defender and seeming to gain a yard and, with Reading now wilting on a warm afternoon, the party gained momentum on the terraces and on the pitch.

To the inevitable choruses of 'Bubbles', the Irons wrapped up the season in fine style with three minutes remaining as the captain claimed the match-ball, heading in an excellent cross from substitute Modibo Maiga who had come on earlier for Vaz Te. It sent the fans wild and topped off a good afternoon as they waved 'Bye Bye' to the Reading fans who started to troop out of the ground.

Sam Allardyce in particular must have welcomed this result; an exact reversal of the game at Upton Park last spring that effectively meant that Reading would be Champions and consigning the Hammers to the playoffs. A lot has happened since.

The celebrations after an excellent season that has seen the Hammers finish in the top half saw the players and their families walk around the ground accepting praise and passing some back to the fans. This being Premiership football, we all know that things can turn quickly and there are definite issues that need sorting for next season. But the key one will surely be either signing Andy Carroll or, if not, finding someone with as much presence who can do the same job.

One thing that has struck me as ironic though is that at the end of every blog 'taster' I've posted here this season, I've had to put up with the legend 'Continue Reading' after the post. For a season at least, that won't now be necessary. . . .

ESPN Conversations