Lugano's first Prem goal earns draw
DIEGO Lugano scored his first-ever Barclays Premier League goal to rescue a point for the Baggies in Pepe Mel’s opening game as head coach.
Albion fell behind to Kevin Mirallas’ strike four minutes before half-time, with the Champions League-chasing visitors worthy of their lead.
But a shrewd change by Mel at the break saw him bring on Victor Anichebe for Matej Vydra against his former club.
The giant striker helped link up the hosts’ high-tempo play as they deservedly took the second-half honours thanks to Lugano’s 75th-minute swooping header.
And perhaps a 1-1 stalemate was always on the cards as the division’s two draw specialists went toe-to-toe at The Hawthorns.
But whatever the outcome, the team’s performance left the home hordes chanting ‘Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole - Pepe, Pepe’ at the final whistle.
Mel was also greeted by a tremendous cheer from the Albion fans as he was announced to the crowd before kick-off.
The Spaniard made four changes – two enforced - to the Baggies side that lost 1-0 at Southampton nine days ago, with Lugano, Claudio Yacob, Zoltan Gera and Vydra earning recalls to the starting XI.
And, as promised, his team started at a high tempo, taking the game to the Toffees with a diamond formation in the middle of the park that saw Yacob at the base and James Morrison at the tip behind Nicolas Anelka and Vydra.
It was the visitors who threatened first as Romelu Lukaku – on his first return to The Hawthorns since his Baggies loan spell last term – latched onto Leighton Baines’ pass and tried to lob the onrushing Ben Foster, only to see his effort drop wide of the left-hand post in the sixth minute.
Three minutes later Anelka set Vydra on the attack down the left and his cross almost found Morrison in the middle.
But Tim Howard did well to get a vital touch on the ball as he dived full stretch to direct it to safety.
At the other end Liam Ridgewell could only head Baines’ 11th-minute free-kick straight to Bryan Oviedo and his instant 15-yard volley flew just past the left-hand post.
A minute later Lukaku crossed for Oviedo and the Costa Rica international stepped inside Yacob before drilling a low 15-yard shot a whisker wide of the right-hand post.
On the opposite flank Mirallas cut inside and fired straight at Foster from the edge of the box on 19.
Ten minutes later Chris Brunt made a vital block on Seamus Coleman’s fierce goalbound drive after the ball broke loose in the penalty area.
The Baggies were weathering the pressure and on the half-hour mark almost broke the deadlock.
Gera raced onto Anelka’s throughball and forced a good save from Howard, who was fortunate to see the rebound drop just out of the reach of Vydra.
But it was the Toffees who stole a lead four minutes before the break when Lukaku flicked on Sylvain Distin’s pass and Mirallas ran in behind Lugano before calmly slotting home past Foster.
Morrison made a crucial challenge to prevent Everton doubling their lead seconds before the break.
Lukaku wrestled his way past Lugano and looked to be in the clear as he headed towards goal – but the Scotland international showed a quick turn of pace and produced a well-timed sliding tackle to dispossess the big Belgian.
Mel made the first substitution of his Albion reign at half-time as he brought on Anichebe in place of Vydra to face his former club.
The Baggies showed the early promise at the start of the second half but Morrison’s first-time shot from Gera’s pull-back to the edge of the box lacked the power to beat Howard on 50.
On the counter-attack Mirallas looked like nodding home Coleman’s cross until Lugano leapt to get an important touch and take the ball away from the Belgium international.
Morrison then sprung Anelka clear on the right and he delivered a near-post cross that Anichebe beat Gareth Barry to in the six-yard box - but did not generate enough power to force it past Howard.
More good play then saw Anichebe hold the ball up before teeing up Gera, whose goalbound blockbuster was stopped by Distin.
Mel made his second change on the hour as Gera made way for Youssouf Mulumbu.
Moments later Coleman got to the byline and centred for Mirallas, whose spectacular 15-yard bicycle kick dropped wide of the right-hand post.
Steven Reid sent in a high cross to the back post on 65 and Anichebe nodded the ball down for Morrison, who sent his left-foot volley high into the crowd from 15 yards.
Albion’s second half pressure paid off on 75 as Lugano got in front of Distin at the near-post from Morrison’s right-wing cross.
The Uruguay captain was still up from a Brunt corner and the ball was quickly returned as Reid superbly dispossessed Lukaku on the counter-attack and the ball ended up at Anichebe’s feet.
Howard had to be alert in the final minute of normal time to dive low to his left and hold Reid’s 25-yard curling free-kick.
And the Blues thought they had nicked all three points at the death – but Distin was correctly called off-side as he turned in Barry’s shot from Baines’ free-kick.
ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Reid, Lugano, Olsson, Ridgewell; Gera (Mulumbu 60), Yacob, Morrison, Brunt; Vydra (Anichebe HT), Anelka (Berahino 76). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Jones, Sessegnon, Amalfitano.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman (Stones 79), Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Barry, McCarthy; Oviedo (McGeady 80), Mirallas, Osman (Naismith 89); Lukaku. Subs not used: Robles (gk), Hibbert, Heitinga, Vellios.
GOALS: ALBION – Lugano (75); EVERTON – Mirallas (41).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Yacob (persistent fouling 35), Morrison (foul 44), Ridgewell (foul 55); EVERTON – Barry (foul 50), Mirallas (foul 90+2).
REFEREE: M Oliver (Northumberland).
ALBION STARMAN: James Morrison.