Striker talks about PFA award nomination, Saints clash and Clarke's challengesROMELU Lukaku has thanked his Albion team-mates and coaches for helping him fire his way onto the PFA Young Player of the Year shortlist.
And the on-loan striker hopes he can repay them by rediscovering his goalscoring touch against Southampton on Saturday (ko 3pm).
The woodwork has three times prevented the Belgium international moving off 13 Barclays Premier League goals for the season in the last four games.
And he is determined to start the weekend on a positive note against the Saints before focusing on Sunday’s PFA awards ceremony, where he will be up against Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Villa’s Christian Benteke, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere for the prestigious award.
“To be there in the list is a dream come true,” said Lukaku, who at 19 is the youngest player among the candidates.
“I never expected it this early in my career.
“Everything that happens in my career seems to happen so fast - and I’m getting used to it.
“I’m very happy.
“For me, it means I’m having a good season.
“It’s great news. It’s recognition for the work I’ve put in but also recognition for my team-mates who have helped me to do it.
“It’s always nice when you have a team-mate of yours on the shortlist because it means the team itself is doing its best.
“Without your team-mates you are not anything so I have to thank my team-mates and the coaching staff who have helped me improve a lot week in, week out.
“I’m very happy and my parents and brother are very proud.
“Hopefully I can win it. But if not this year, hopefully I can in years to come.
“It would be nice to have an individual prize but football is a team sport and as long as you play well for your team the prizes will look after themselves.”
The trip to St Mary’s will be the first of the final five games of Lukaku’s season-long spell at The Hawthorns.
And he is hoping for a change in fortunes against a 12th-placed Southampton side he insists is very different to the one the Baggies beat 2-0 in November.
“I just need a little bit more luck at the moment,” he insisted.
“At West Ham I hit the post and the crossbar and against Newcastle I hit the crossbar.
“Maybe I just need a deflection to come my way.
“But I will not doubt myself, I just need that slight bit of luck and then it’s on again, because in training every time I hit it right it goes in.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on myself.
“I want the team to do well first and foremost and if I do that it means I’ll be looking for goals.
“But I don’t want to push it and be an egoistic type of player that doesn’t make passes in front of goal.”
He added: “Southampton are playing very good football.
“I saw the game they played against Reading.
“They are playing differently to the way they played at the start of the season.
“At the beginning of the season there was a lot of space to play, now there isn’t.
“They are very close and when they lose the ball they press to recover the ball in six seconds all the time.
“They are dangerous up front in Lambert especially and Rodriguez, who is scoring a lot.
“It will not be easy but it’s up to us; we have our own qualities.
“I think they will really get at us but we have to react and take the initiative to win the game.
“The first goal will be really important.”
Lukaku believes it is mission accomplished in terms of the progress he has made over the course of the season.
And he has thanked head coach Steve Clarke and joint-assistant head coaches Kevin Keen and Keith Downing for their input, as well as offering an insight into the techniques they have used to develop his game.
“I’ve become a far better player technically and physically, and physically next year I think I will be better because I didn’t know how to use my body or protect my body before,” he said.
“Now I know how defenders in this league play and I still need to keep learning.
“I think this season is the first step to something great.
“My career is all up to me, it’s up to me to work hard and improve my qualities.
“I think, as a striker, I’m now really convinced I can score in different ways – right foot, left foot and headers.
“Now it’s up to me to confirm that and get better statistics than this season.”
He added: “Steve Clarke challenges me all the time and I like challenges!
“Sometimes when I’m on the side winning in training he’ll swap me to the losing side and then it’s up to me to help the losing side win.
“When I’ve had one or two bad games in a row he comes to me and tells me to show a reaction.
“He is a very challenging head coach.
“You play football to have challenges and I like difficult challenges.
“I don’t like to walk on the easy path.
“I want to have difficulties sometimes because if you come out of difficulties you can react better.
“The gaffer has supported me through everything and Kevin Keen and Keith Downing have helped me a lot.
“Keith works with me on my shooting technique and my movement inside the box.
“Kevin is more tactical about how I have to run, use my body or how my direct opponent is.
“On the mental aspects of the game, Kevin is very strong.
“He doesn’t give a lot of explanations - just short words, while the head coach challenges me all the time.
“With the three of them I have a special bond - but in different ways.”