Just when it seemed Norwich were upstaging them as the surprise name among the established order at the top end of the Premier League, West Bromwich Albion reimposed their authority to end an unbeaten run of 10 games for Chris Hughton's team and record their own first win in five.
The result rewards Albion with 30 points at Christmas, the same tally as third-placed Arsenal. The manner in which it was gained, moreover, should serve as a retort to those doubters who interpreted recent events as heralding a downturn in their season.
Zoltan Gera's 43rd-minute equaliser was their first goal in almost six hours but, with the immensely promising Romelu Lukaku recalled to lead the line as Shane Long was rested, they always looked a threat to Norwich's run. Indeed, it was Lukaku, the 19-year-old Belgian on a season-long loan from Chelsea, who produced the winning goal eight minutes from the end, using all of his power and strength to climb above Javier Garrido and head Goran Popov's cross past Mark Bunn in the Norwich goal.
Steve Clarke, the Albion manager, has managed the teenager's development so carefully that this was only the fifth league match he has started, yet it produced his sixth goal. There should be more to come, assuming Chelsea do not want him back in January.
"It was a great header and shows what he can do," Clarke said. "He is a player with a big future ahead of him in the game and the fact that he has not been able to get into the team for most of the season is down to how well Shane Long has played.
"I thought we were still a bit scratchy but it was important for us to get the three points after four games without a win."
For Hughton, the defeat was easier to take for the fact that Norwich had made such progress, climbing from 19th to eighth during the 10-match sequence, although he felt a draw would have been a fairer result.
"As the away team I felt we did enough in the game to merit that, particularly as the corner that led to Albion's first goal should not have been given," Hughton said. "But unbeaten runs have to end somewhere and to go 10 unbeaten in a league as strong as this is some feat. It is now about how we respond and come back from this result."
Albion made the more positive start. Lukaku twice threatened to end Albion's goal famine in the first 20 minutes, flashing a strong header over the bar from another Popov cross and then drawing a decent save from Bunn after James Morrison's neat pass opened up space for him through the inside-right channel.
Yet it was Norwich who went ahead as Ben Foster failed to keep out a free kick he seemed to have covered. Robert Snodgrass, with his left foot, swung the ball over Albion's defensive wall from five yards outside the penalty area on the right. Foster – back in the side after an injury-enforced absence of almost seven weeks – could only push the ball into the roof of the net.
When the equaliser arrived – 358 minutes since Lukaku's goal at Swansea on 28 November – it was a goal Albion deserved, having continued to push their opponents on to the back foot. Bunn had denied Gareth McAuley and, after a Morrison shot was blocked, Popov unleashed a powerful drive that only just cleared the bar. From the corner Hughton disputed – with reason as the ball had gone out of play off Gera's head rather than Sébastian Bassong – Gera forced the ball over the line after Bunn had touched a Jonas Olsson header on to the woodwork.
The second half was an even contest in which Michael Turner and Bradley Johnson both missed with headers for Norwich and McAuley spurned another chance for Albion. But Clarke threw on two extra forwards in Marc-Antoine Fortuné as well as Long and the move was probably the decisive one.
West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Brunt, Morrison; Gera (Long, 61), Dorrans (Fortuné, 46), Odemwinge; Lukaku (Tamas, 84).
Norwich (4-4-2): Bunn; Whittaker (R Martin, 55), Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass, Tettey (Jackson, 86), Johnson, Pilkington; Hoolahan (Howson, 73), Morison.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Lukaku (West Bromwich).
Match rating: 6/10.
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