Hat-trick hero Lukaku completes truly stunning comeback as Sir Alex bows out
SUPER-SUB Romelu Lukaku bagged a sensational second-half hat-trick as Albion denied Sir Alex Ferguson a winning finale to his glittering managerial career by netting three times in the last nine minutes.
United underlined their determination to win ‘Fergie’s’ 1,500th and final game in charge of the champions by surging 3-0 up inside 30 minutes thanks to Shinji Kagawa’s opener, a Jonas Olsson own goal and an Alexander Buttner strike.
Goals either side of the interval from James Morrison and half-time sub Lukaku reduced the arrears - only for Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez to restore United’s three-goal cushion.
But Lukaku got the Baggies back in it with his second on 81 before Youssouf Mulumbu added a fourth in the same minute on an astonishing afternoon.
And the roof came off The Hawthorns four minutes from time when Lukaku bundled home his third of the afternoon – and 17th of a wonderful season – to confirm the Barclays Premier League’s first-ever 5-5 draw.
It is the first time Albion have bagged a Premier League point at home to United and this unforgettable game was a fitting finale to a memorable season.
Swansea’s home defeat by Fulham confirmed the Baggies finished in the lofty heights of eighth spot thanks to their impressive 49-point haul – a club record in the Premier League.
Steve Clarke made four changes for the final game of his first season at the helm, with Billy Jones, Liam Ridgewell, skipper Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans coming in for the injured Steven Reid and benched trio Goran Popov, Markus Rosenberg and Lukaku.
Ferguson made six changes. In came Anders Lindegaard, Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Buttner, Anderson and Tom Cleverley for David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes and the injured Danny Welbeck.
The ground rose as one to salute Ferguson as he made his way through a guard of honour – formed by coaching staff and players from both sides – just before kick-off.
And the United boss had plenty to cheer about during the opening nine minutes as United surged 2-0 up.
After an uneventful start, United’s opener came like a bolt out of the blue. Hernandez chased down a hopeful ball by Cleverley before picking out Kagawa, who had the freedom of the Baggies’ six-yard box to head past the helpless Ben Foster.
Three minutes later, there was another body blow for the Baggies. Valencia ran at Ridgewell before whipping in a low cross which the luckless Olsson turned into his own net.
It was an opening befitting the champions of England and Brunt had to produce a vital block to prevent Phil Jones inflicting further damage on 14 after a left-wing corner had wreaked havoc inside the home side’s penalty area.
Albion understandably looked shell-shocked but desperately tried to gain a foothold in the game. They mustered their first attempt at goal on 21 but Brunt’s ferocious 25-yard drive was blocked in its infancy by Anderson.
The hosts had another big scare on 24 when Michael Carrick picked out Hernandez unmarked at the back post but the Mexican wastefully headed well wide.
However, it WAS 3-0 on the half-hour mark. Cleverley slipped in Buttner who rifled an unstoppable effort into the far bottom corner of the net with his left foot.
Albion produced their best moment of the game thus far two minutes later when Shane Long outmuscled both Buttner and Evans to head Brunt’s deflected centre over.
However, on 38, United almost added yet another goal. Valencia hooked the ball into the box after chasing down a lost cause and Hernandez poked just wide from seven yards.
But the Baggies earned themselves a lifeline two minutes later when they reduced the arrears. After Albion won possession deep in the United half, Mulumbu fed Dorrans whose low cross was swept home by Morrison from eight yards.
There was still time for two chances at both ends.
On 43, Valencia combined with Cleverley to tee up Hernandez whose 15-yard shot was blocked by Foster. However, the ex-United keeper had to make an even better save as the rebound bounced goalwards off McAuley. Foster showed terrific reflexes to palm the ball over the bar.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Albion almost pulled another goal back. Morrison pounced on a Jones mistake and played the ball across goal to Long, whose first-time effort was diverted wide by Evans’ brilliant last-ditch tackle.
But it really was game on five minutes after the break. Dorrans and Morrison worked the ball to sub Lukaku, who had replaced Ridgewell during the interval, and his low 20-yard effort was too good for Lindegaard, who pushed the ball in off the far post.
United regrouped and Anderson directed Valencia’s pull-back straight at Foster from 20 yards.
However, on 53, the visitors restored their two-goal cushion. Valencia surged to the by-line before cutting the ball across goal and van Persie nipped in front of Olsson to fire home.
Back came Albion and Mulumbu was unlucky to see a foraging run inside the box come to naught before Dorrans fired wide from 25 yards.
But United looked like scoring every time they piled forward – and they added a fifth on 63. Sub Ryan Giggs, who been on the field barely three minutes, whipped over a terrific left-footed centre which Hernandez tapped home from six yards.
Yet Albion should have been back on the scoresheet on 67 in this most bizarre of encounters. Olsson was completely unmarked as Dorrans’ corner dropped to him in the six-yard box – but he volleyed over the gaping net.
Moments later, Dorrans was off target with an ambitious effort from the edge of the box.
But Albion kept pressing and Lukaku was only a whisker away with a low 30-yard free-kick which clipped the United wall and spun inches wide.
The on-loan Chelsea man went even closer moments later when he placed the ball agonisingly wide from 15 yards after being picked out by Morrison.
The action continued to come at both ends. Buttner inadvertently clipped the Albion bar with a wayward cross before Dorrans fired over from Lukaku’s pull-back.
Then, on 78, Giggs saw an audacious chip land on the roof of the Albion net.
Albion sensationally made it 3-5 nine minutes from time when Lukaku raced onto sub Rosenberg’s perfect pass and slipped the ball past Lindegaard for his 16th goal of the season.
And there was bedlam in the home sections in the same minute when Mulumbu added a fourth, calmly sliding home Jones’ low cross.
As if that wasn’t unbelievable enough, it was 5-5 four minutes from time. Dorrans’ cross was forced across goal by Mulumbu at the far post and Lukaku outmuscled sub Ferdinand to bundle the ball past Lindegaard and bag his hat-trick.
As the stadium caught its breath, Albion continued to attack amid a backdrop of chants of ‘we want six’!
Valencia got in the way of Mulumbu’s shot in the box and then, in the first minute of stoppage time, Rosenberg fired over on the stretch from Lukaku’s diagonal ball into the box.
That was the final goalmouth incident of a truly astonishing game which no-one lucky enough to be among the 26,438 crowd will ever forget.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell (Lukaku HT); Yacob, Mulumbu; Dorrans, Morrison (Fortune 79), Brunt; Long (Rosenberg 79). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Dawson, Tamas, Popov.
UNITED (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Valencia, Evans (Ferdinand 83), Jones, Buttner; Anderson, Carrick, Cleverley (Giggs 60), Kagawa (Scholes 69); van Persie, Hernandez. Subs not used: De Gea (gk), Evra, Vidic, Januzaj.
GOALS: ALBION – Morrison (40), Lukaku (50, 81 & 86), Mulumbu (81). UNITED – Kagawa (6), Olsson (own goal 9), Buttner (30), van Persie (53), Hernandez (63).
BOOKINGS: UNITED – Scholes (foul 82).
REFEREE: M Oliver (Northumberland).
ALBION STARMAN: Romelu Lukaku.