Baggies battle back to beat cup winners
ALBION made it nine home wins in a top-flight season for the first time in 28 years after they came from behind to leapfrog the Capital One Cup winners in the league table.
Former Baggies striker Luke Moore headed the visitors in front on 33 but Romelu Lukaku clawed the hosts level seven minutes later with his fourth goal in three games – and his 13th of the season.
Steve Clarke’s side took compete control after the break and looked set to snatch the lead when they won a 57th-minute penalty – only for Michel Vorm to keep out Lukaku’s spot-kick.
But the Baggies WERE ahead just four minutes later, when Gareth McAuley headed home from Chris Brunt’s corner.
Albion’s third win in four games has moved them within four points of their record Barclays Premier League points tally – 47 – with nine games left. The result also ended a run of three successive top-flight defeats at the hands of Swansea.
Ninth entertained eighth at The Hawthorns, with the two teams locked on 40 points and separated only by goal difference.
Clarke made three changes – two enforced – as Billy Jones, making his first start in five games, Lukaku and skipper Brunt came in for injured duo Steven Reid and Shane Long and the benched Marc-Antoine Fortune. Goran Popov also returned as a sub after serving a three-game ban.
Michael Laudrup made two changes, with Moore and Ki Sung-Yueng replacing Leon Britton and Nathan Dyer.
After a low-key opening to the game, the visitors created the first half-chance on six minutes when Miguel Michu lashed over from 15 yards after neat build-up play between Wayne Routledge and Pablo Hernandez.
Two minutes later, the Swans won an inviting free-kick just outside the Albion penalty area and Jonathan De Guzman curled a decent effort just wide of the left-hand post.
The Baggies responded with a long spell of keep-ball in the City half but Laudrup’s defensive unit proved a tough nut to crack.
Albion kept prodding and probing and Routledge did well to get in the way of Graham Dorrans’ 20-yard drive after the Scotland international had fashioned the shooting opportunity.
In a flash – and only after James Morrison had appeared to be fouled on the edge of the City box, which wasn’t given – Swansea broke upfield and created the game’s first clear-cut chance. Moore threaded in Michu and the Spaniard uncharacteristically stabbed wide of the on-rushing Ben Foster and the left-hand post.
Albion were soon back on the attack but Dorrans was well wide with an ambitious 30-yard strike.
It was a classic case of two teams cancelling each other out and although there was plenty of silky football on show, goalscoring chances were scarce.
However, the Baggies created their best moment thus far on 31.
Lukaku, who was ineligible to face parent club Chelsea last Saturday, found Brunt with an exquisite diagonal ball which the skipper chested down before firing over from an acute angle.
Albion shot themselves in the foot on 33, though, by conceding a sloppy opening goal. De Guzman swung in a corner from the left and Moore ghosted just in front of Claudio Yacob to plant a terrific header in the far right-hand corner, giving Foster no chance.
But the hosts were level within seven minutes. Brunt flicked on Foster’s long clearance and Dorrans’ first-time low cross into the box was swept home clinically at the near post by that man Lukaku.
Swansea hit back on 43 when they won a free-kick just outside the Albion box. But it came to naught. Hernandez’s set-piece cannoned into the Baggies wall and De Guzman drilled the rebound over from 20 yards.
But it was Albion who finished the half on top. Lukaku pounced on a loose clearance to tee up Morrison whose first-time volley from inside the ‘D’ was blocked by Vorm, who knew little about it.
The Baggies stormed out of the blocks after the break and created three openings inside the first 12 minutes.
After Garry Monk failed to cut out Jonas Olsson’s lofted ball, Lukaku charged to the edge of the box before screwing wide of the near post.
The on-loan Chelsea man then laid off another Olsson pass into the path of Morrison, whose first-time effort from 15 yards was smothered at his near-post by Vorm.
Albion really did let Swansea off the hook on 57, though. After sustained Baggies pressure, Routledge tripped Morisson in the box to concede a penalty. Up stepped Lukaku – only to see his spot-kick saved low to his right by Vorm.
However, the hosts continued to turn the screw and got their noses in front on 61. McAuley rose highest to powerfully head Brunt’s corner goalwards. The ball appeared to have crossed the line before it was cleared by Angel Rangel but, in any case, the right-back’s clearance ricocheted off the back of team-mate De Guzman and into the net.
It was no less than Albion, who had been terrific since the interval, deserved.
The Baggies kept pressing for a third and Lukaku went close when he controlled Brunt’s corner and saw his 15-yard effort deflected wide by sub Roland Lamah – but referee Lee Mason awarded a goal-kick!
Swansea had offered little threat in the second half but Albion had a minor let off when Michu hacked over from 15 yards after sub Dyer had laid off Ben Davies’ deep cross.
Moments later, Ki shot straight at Foster from 25 yards.
However, the hosts had a huge slice of luck in the 87th minute when Lamah had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. After the sub had jinked his way into the box, his low cross rebounded back to him off an Albion player and he coolly slotted home. However, the referee’s assistant flagged, assuming the ball had struck a team-mate which would, indeed, have rendered him offside.
Still, it could be argued Albion’s second-half performance had warranted this moment of fortune and they saw out four minutes of stoppage with little trouble to secure a 13th win of the season.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Dorrans (Fortune 87), Morrison (Thomas 87), Brunt (c); Lukaku (Odemwingie 80). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Tamas, Popov, Rosenberg.
SWANSEA (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel, Monk (c), Williams, Davies; Ki, De Guzman; Hernandez (Lamah 68), Michu, Routledge (Shechter 76); Moore (Dyer 60). Subs not used: Tremmel (gk), Bartley, Tiendalli, Gower.
GOALS: ALBION – Lukaku (40), McAuley (61). SWANSEA – Moore (33).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Jones (foul 41). SWANSEA – Dyer (foul 89).
REFEREE: L Mason (Lancashire).
ALBION STARMAN: Youssouf Mulumbu.