Lukaku heads late winner
ROMELU Lukaku’s late header earned Albion their first win in five games to shatter Norwich’s proud ten-match unbeaten league run.
City, the Barclays Premier League’s form team, broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute when Robert Snodgrass beat the recalled Ben Foster with a 25-yard free-kick.
Zoltan Gera’s 43rd-minute leveller – his fourth of the season – deservedly clawed Albion level.
The Baggies looked the team more likely to win it after the break, with Foster having a quiet game.
And Lukaku’s sixth of the season eight minutes from time saw Steve Clarke’s side hit the 30-point mark before Christmas.
Seventh entertained eighth – separated by just two points – in only the 12th top-flight meeting between the two clubs on Hawthorns soil.
Foster earned a rapturous pre-match welcome as he returned between the sticks after a seven-game injury lay-off. Lukaku and Graham Dorrans also earned recalls, with benched duo Boaz Myhill and Shane Long, plus the suspended Youssouf Mulumbu, making way. Liam Ridgewell recovered from an ankle injury to make the bench but Claudio Yacob (hamstring) and Steven Reid (shin) remained sidelined.
Chris Hughton made one enforced change as Steve Morison started up front in place of the injured Grant Holt.
The game got off to a lively start and, with less than three minutes on the clock, Goran Popov collected Dorrans’ lay-off before whipping in a terrific left-wing cross and Lukaku’s header clipped the roof of the net.
Two minutes later, it was Norwich who threatened when Snodgrass seized upon Jonas Olsson’s headed clearance and fired straight at Foster from 18 yards.
But the chances suddenly dried up as both teams sized each other up.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 18th minute that there was another effort at goal, when Bradley Johnson miscued well wide from 20 yards.
Two minutes later, Albion created the game’s best chance thus far out of nothing. Slick passes by Brunt and Morrison unlocked the Canaries’ defence and put Lukaku through, only for the on-loan Chelsea man to see his low angled shot well held by Mark Bunn.
However, it was Norwich who snatched the lead on 23. Snodgrass took aim from a free-kick 25 yards out and beat Foster inside his left-hand post. The Albion No.1 got two hands to the shot but could only push the effort into the roof of his net.
The Baggies were mightily unlucky not to be level just six minutes later. Gareth McAuley ghosted in at the far post to nudge Brunt’s dipping corner goalwards – but Bunn somehow scrambled the effort off his line and to safety.
Moments later, Popov went close with a thunderous 25-yard drive which rose just over Bunn’s bar.
Norwich, however, were proving a tough nut to crack and the home side did not help themselves by gifting City possession when they got into promising situations.
Albion did break forward to good effect on 42, though, when Gera saw his 12-yard header from Lukaku’s centre clip Alexander Tettey and fly over. The duo looked in some pain after clashing heads in contesting Lukaku’s cross.
But they both stayed on the pitch for Brunt’s ensuing corner – and the home sections were glad that Gera did!
Olsson rose highest at the back post and his awkward downward header was tipped onto the bar by Bunn – before Gera stabbed home the loose ball from close range.
It was a goal Albion’s effort and endeavour had deserved and they almost snatched a half-time lead in the final minute when Odemwingie cut in from the left and saw a 20-yard shot fizz inches wide of the far post.
The Baggies made a change at half-time as Marc-Antoine Fortune replaced Dorrans.
The break seemed to knock the momentum out of Albion’s play and they took a while to find their rhythm in the second 45.
A mix-up between Popov and Odemwingie on 54 was seized upon by Tettey, who sent Morison scampering clear. Thankfully for Albion, McAuley managed to catch up with the City striker as he bore down on Foster’s goal and his sliding challenge diverted Morison’s effort to safety.
Moments later, the hosts only half-cleared a Norwich corner. Snodgrass whipped the ball back in and Turner will feel he should have done much better with a free header from eight yards, which he directed wide.
Albion finally launched an attack of their own on 57 and from Brunt’s free-kick, McAuley rose highest but flicked the ball well wide.
On the hour-mark, Odemwingie cut in from the left and saw a low 25-yard drive well held by Bunn.
Clarke rang another change on 62 when he replaced Gera with Long.
The chances again dried up for a while – before sub Russell Martin denied Lukaku a tap-in by cutting out Odemwingie’s low centre at full stretch.
Albion began to build up a head of steam and Snodgrass risked life and limb in diverting away from goal Brunt’s fierce 18-yard volley.
The Baggies enjoyed long periods of possession inside Norwich’s final third in the dying stages – and finally got the breakthrough eight minutes from time.
The increasingly influential Popov directed a wonderful diagonal ball into the Norwich penalty area and Lukaku rose above Javier Garrido to plant an unstoppable header past Bunn.
Albion had to weather some Norwich pressure in the dying stages as the visitors pushed for an equaliser and they had a real scare deep into stoppage time when Turner flashed a header just wide - but the Baggies held on.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Dorrans (Fortune HT), Brunt (c); Gera (Long 62), Morrison, Odemwingie; Lukaku (Tamas 84). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Ridgewell, Rosenberg, Jara Reyes.
NORWICH (4-2-3-1): Bunn; Whittaker (R Martin 55), Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Tettey (Jackson 86), Johnson; Snodgrass, Hoolahan (c) (Howson 72), Pilkington; Morison. Subs not used: Steer (gk), E Bennett, Barnett, Kane.
GOALS: ALBION – Gera (43), Lukaku (82). NORWICH – Snodgrass (23).
BOOKINGS: ALBION - Popov (foul 90+5). NORWICH – Turner (57).
REFEREE: M Atkinson (South Yorkshire).
ALBION STARMAN: Goran Popov.