Lukaku fires Baggies to third win of term with 71st-minute strike
ROMELU Lukaku crowned his first Albion start by firing the club to an historic win against the Championship champions.
The on-loan Chelsea man grabbed the only goal of the game in the 71st minute as the Baggies won their opening three home matches in the top-flight for the first time in 58 years.
Albion didn’t hit the heights of their previous Hawthorns victories over Liverpool and Everton but were still deserved winners and Steve Clarke will have been equally pleased with a third successive shut-out on home soil.
The Baggies’ third victory in five games means they have also already hit double figures in points.
Seventh entertained second-bottom in this first-ever top-flight meeting between the two clubs.
Lukaku was handed his full Baggies debut while skipper Chris Brunt made his first league start of the term and Zoltan Gera was recalled as Clarke made three changes
The trio replaced ex-Reading man Shane Long and Marc-Antoine Fortune, both benched, and the suspended Peter Odemwingie. Billy Jones continued at right back after Steven Reid (hamstring) failed to win his fitness race.
Ex-Baggie Jason Roberts was denied a Hawthorns return by injury but there were still two other former Albion men in Brian McDermott’s 18.
Nicky Shorey, released at the end of last season, started in place of Ian Harte while former loan signing Shaun Cummings was on the bench.
Albion started confidently and Alex Pearce’s vital six-yard clearance denied several Baggies a simple tap-in after terrific play by Lukaku down the right.
In the ninth minute, Royals keeper Alex McCarthy had to pull off a stunning finger-tip save low to his right after James Morrison had been allowed to advance and shoot from 20 yards.
Ben Foster was tested for the first time on 13. It was a simple enough save, but Garath McCleary’s overhead kick from Jobi McAnuff’s centre was something to behold.
Albion were soon back on the attack and after Morrison threaded Lukaku through down the right, McCarthy did well to push away the Belgian’s cross and deny Brunt a tap-in.
However, frustration began to set in among the home team as their final ball let them down on several occasions.
The Baggies combined to great effect again on the half-hour mark, though, when Morrison exchanged an exquisite one-two with Gera, only for his finish to let him down, screwing harmlessly wide from 15 yards.
There was a talking point in the 36th minute when there was a coming together between Jones and McAnuff on the right-hand edge of the Albion penalty area. McAnuff was convinced he should have been awarded a spot-kick but referee Chris Foy signalled a goal-kick. TV replays proved inconclusive.
Reading had largely resorted to long-range shots, none of which troubled Foster, and the Albion No.1 again could stand and watch on 43 when Pearce headed well over from Shorey’s free-kick.
The Baggies twice went close to breaking the deadlock in the dying seconds of the half. Lukaku was denied a certain goal by Chris Gunter’s last-ditch tackle after he had taken Morrison’s through-ball in his stride. From Brunt’s ensuing corner, Jonas Olsson rose highest and crashed a header off the left-hand post.
Albion picked up from where they had left off after the break and after Brunt’s cross proved just too high for Lukaku to direct a close-range header goalwards, Gera pounced on the loose ball and saw his shot blocked by Kaspers Gorkss.
Moments later, there was a worrying sign when Foster needed treatment after colliding with Adam Le Fondre as he bravely punched clear McAnuff’s centre. Thankfully, the England international was able to continue.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, McCarthy had been the busier of the keepers and he pulled off another exceptional save in the 56th minute when he dived full stretch to his right to push away Morrison’s stunning 20-yard volley.
This game remained very much in the balance and Shorey gave the Baggies momentary concern when he curled a free-kick over their defensive wall – but his effort sailed a couple of yards wide.
Albion surged straight upfield and after Lukaku had out-muscled Chris Gunter, McCarthy raced to the edge of his area to bravely tackle the striker and win a goal-kick.
Clarke made his first change on 65, replacing Morrison with Long, who received a warm welcome from both the home and away supporters. Another soon followed, with Graham Dorrans coming on for Gera.
The Scot had barely been on the field a minute when he played a key role in Albion breaking the deadlock. From Dorrans’ diagonal ball into the box, Long leapt highest to head the ball to Lukaku who controlled before beating McCarthy with a low strike from just inside the box.
Lukaku was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by Markus Rosenberg, making his Hawthorns debut, seven minutes later.
Reading did not throw in the towel, though, and Foster was relieved to see sub Hal Robson-Kanu’s looping far-post header from McCleary’s centre land on the roof of his net with six minutes left.
Rosenberg tried his luck in stoppage time but fired straight at McCarthy from 20 yards.
The full-time whistle confirmed a maximum return of nine points from nine on home soil this term, the last three of which were today won in professional manner.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Gera (Dorrans 70), Morrison (Long 65), Brunt; Lukaku (Rosenberg 78). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Dawson, Jara Reyes, Fortune.
READING (4-4-2): McCarthy; Gunter (Robson-Kanu 80), Gorkss, Pearce, Shorey; McCleary, Guthrie, Leigertwood, McAnuff; Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak (Hunt 69). Subs not used: Taylor (gk), Cummings, Mariappa, Karacan, Church.
GOALS: ALBION – Lukaku (71).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Yacob (foul 89).
REFEREE: C Foy (Merseyside).
ALBION STARMAN: Liam Ridgewell.