Late McAuley and Lukaku goals seal win
LATE goals from Gareth McAuley and sub Romelu Lukaku fired the gutsy Baggies to their maiden win of 2013 - and first league double over Liverpool for 46 years.
Northern Ireland centre-half McAuley headed home international team-mate Chris Brunt’s corner nine minutes from time.
And Lukaku, who completed the scoring in Albion’s opening-day 3-0 romp against the Reds, made the points safe with a well-taken goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
But Ben Foster was the real Baggies hero, keeping the Reds at bay with a string of fine saves including a stunning 77th-minute penalty stop to deny Steven Gerrard and set up Albion's fourth away win of the term.
Foster’s brilliance helped the visitors record their first away clean sheet in ten months – ironically since their last win at Anfield.
It wasn’t too long ago that Liverpool were Albion’s undisputed Barclays Premier League bogey side, but they now boast four wins in five against the Merseysiders – and have leapfrogged them in the table.
Eighth entertained ninth on Merseyside, with the two teams separated by just two points, as Steve Clarke returned to Liverpool for the first time since his tenure as Kenny Dalglish's first-team coach came to an end last summer.
Youssouf Mulumbu made his first Barclays Premier League appearance since New Year’s Day as Clarke rang two changes from the Tottenham defeat eight days ago.
The DR Congo international, ruled out of the Spurs game with a knee injury after returning from the African Cup of Nations, was recalled along with Liam Ridgewell. The benched Lukaku and suspended Goran Popov made way.
Brendan Rodgers made one change from the Reds’ draw at champions Manchester City as Jonjo Shelvey replaced Daniel Sturridge (thigh).
Albion started confidently at Anfield and enjoyed long spells of possession during the opening exchanges
However, it was the hosts who recorded the first shot at goal, with Luis Suarez sending an ambitious effort well wide from the right-hand edge of the box.
The Baggies continued to prod and probe in the Liverpool half but the next goalmouth action again came at the other end when Shelvey correctly had a ‘goal’ ruled out for offside after Foster parried Glen Johnson’s 20-yard volley.
Gerrard tried his luck on 12 but failed to trouble Foster from distance.
But as the game approached the 20-minute mark, Rodgers’ men began to get on top and Ridgewell did well to deflect wide a Stewart Downing effort from just inside the box.
Four minutes later, Daniel Agger ghosted away from his marker and saw his flick-header from Downing’s corner tipped over by Foster.
Albion were struggling to get out of their own half and, on 26, Foster had to be alert to palm upwards Downing’s 30-yard rocket, before collecting the loose ball at the second attempt.
The Baggies gradually regained a foothold, though, and skipper Brunt came within inches of connecting with Mulumbu’s low centre on the half-hour mark.
Back came Liverpool and the visitors were relieved to see Downing’s centre from Gerrard’s short corner narrowly avoid the unmarked Agger on the edge of the six-yard box.
This game had yet to provide the fireworks the Sky Sports cameras craved and Suarez was well off target with a 20-yarder on 38.
Steven Reid came close to breaking the deadlock on 41 – at the wrong end. The right-back unwittingly kicked Shelvey’s low centre against his standing leg and was relieved to see the ball loop over Foster’s bar from three yards.
But although they had carried little threat, Albion could be pleased with their efforts at the other end as the half drew to a close, having limited Liverpool to long-range efforts, the last of which was recorded by Johnson in stoppage time, firing well wide from 25 yards.
After a composed start to the second half, Albion were grateful to Foster’s bravery for keeping them level on 49. Downing forced the ball into the box and the Baggies No.1 raced off his line to deny Gerrard at point-blank range.
Foster was it again three minutes later when he somehow kept out Jordan Henderson’s cheeky back-heel with his right boot from Johnson’s low centre.
Albion weathered the pressure and regrouped and Liverpool did not threaten again until 61, when Suarez saw a 20-yard volley deflected well over.
Foster showed a terrific pair of hands to hold onto Fabio Borini’s 16-yard snapshot from Downing’s cut-back on 68.
Two minutes later, as Liverpool continued to press, McAuley produced a brilliant sliding block to deny Suarez, who had been slipped through by Jose Enrique.
But it was Foster who stole the show again on 71 when he produced the save of the game – and arguably his season – to push away Gerrard’s 15-yard volley from sub Raheem Sterling’s tee-up.
Clarke rang his first change on 74, replacing Graham Dorrans with Lukaku.
But Albion’s determined rearguard action appeared to have come to naught 13 minutes from time when referee Jonathan Moss controversially awarded the Reds a penalty for an alleged push from Jonas Olsson on Suarez. TV replays showed that the Swede had done little wrong.
However, whatever injustice was felt by the Baggies, they needn’t have worried as Foster’s evening got even better when he kept out Gerrard’s spot-kick in front of his left-hand post.
Foster’s brilliance breathed confidence into Albion’s performance and Pepe Reina had to produce a brilliant finger-tip save to keep out Mulumbu’s 25-yarder.
Incredibly, Albion were ahead from Brunt’s ensuing 81st-minute corner. McAuley shrugged off Agger and ghosted towards the near post to head powerfully home off the underside of the bar.
After Lukaku shot just wide from outside the area on 88, it was game over in the first minute of stoppage time.
Lukaku collected James Morrison’s pass and jinked away from Agger before firing past Reina – for his tenth of the season.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard; Henderson (Sterling 60), Shelvey (Borini 60), Downing (Coutinho 78); Suarez. Subs not used: Jones (gk), Wisdom, Skrtel, Allen.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Yacob; Dorrans (Lukaku 74), Morrison, Brunt; Long (Fortune 86). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Jones, Rosenberg, Tamas, Thomas.
GOALS: ALBION – McAuley (81), Lukaku (90+1).
BOOKINGS: LIVERPOOL – Suarez (90+4). ALBION – Reid (foul 42), Ridgewell (foul 69), Morrison (kicking ball away 72), Brunt (foul 73).
REFEREE: J Moss (West Yorkshire).
ATTENDANCE: 44,752 (574 away fans).
ALBION STARMAN: Ben Foster.