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Saturday, January 19, 2013
Foster pleased over Lukaku stay

David Instone

Ben Foster admits he and his West Bromwich Albion team-mates were relieved when they learned Chelsea had not recalled in-form Romelu Lukaku.

The deadline for the Champions League and FA Cup holders to take the Belgian youngster back from his season-long loan in the Black Country passed early in the transfer window. And Foster says there was a collective sigh in Albion's dressing room when the squad, who have a home derby against Aston Villa this afternoon, learned that the 19-year-old would be staying until the summer.

"I heard a few rumours, especially with the way Chelsea were going," the 'keeper said. "With Torres misfiring, it screamed out for him to go back. And I think it would have been a huge loss for us - not just on pitch, but off it as well.

"I just know he's really happy. He has said that if you're happy where you are, you play your best football and that's what he's doing. I know that's true.

"He enjoys coming in, he has got a good set of lads here and he's got a group of friends here. He just looks settled and enjoying his football."

Lukaku has shot to the top of Albion's scoring charts by hitting three goals in the last two Premier League games - one against Fulham on New Year's Day and two in last weekend's shock defeat at Reading.

His nine goals leave him one ahead of Shane Long, and Foster believes he has gone up a notch in recent weeks - an ominous sign for struggling Villa as they look to their own Belgian import Christian Benteke for inspiration.

"In the last month, it's like the penny has dropped," Foster added. "It was probably the inexperience (previously) about getting used to playing Premier League football and knowing your role as a striker.

"He uses his strength to hold players off and he's starting to get into the box to get on the end of things. He's got everything and I don't see any reason why next season he shouldn't be challenging for Chelsea's team.

"He's only 19. It's credit to him as a person that he's so grounded. He doesn't give any grief, doesn't give off any surliness. He's just a good lad who cracks on with it and listens to what you say.

"He has come from Chelsea, so you might assume automatically he would have a little bit of ego. But you can shout at him in training, shout at him in a match and he'll listen, no matter who you are.

"He'll be a big player in years to come. His English is perfect, he looks hungry and he wants to learn. If you see him in training over the past month or so, he really is kicking on. And having played the last six or seven games on the bounce, that's probably helped settle him as well. Chelsea paid so much money for him and they know what they're doing."

Foster can well relate to the fortunes of this afternoon's visitors. Like the Birmingham City team he starred in two seasons ago, they are aiming for Wembley glory in the Capital One Cup while also waging a battle for survival in the League.

The difference is that Paul Lambert's men have been in peril virtually since 2012-13 started while Blues had their heads well above water until their energy levels plummeted after the shock win over Arsenal in the final.

"We had quite a settled team with experienced players around us," he said. "The Carling Cup took everything out of us, it was a huge drain on everyone. The next two, three or four matches after that final, we were awful.

"It snowballed from there. We had seven or eight games left and it was in our hands. I remember saying that if we got relegated, we would have only ourselves to blame.

"If you start looking at from the view of only needing this many points to stay safe, that's narrow-minded. You need to look at the broader picture and go into every game thinking you can get three points.

"It took so much out of us but we still wouldn't have changed it. You'd rather win the cup final and see how you fare after that. They will be giving everything to try to get to that final.

"You'd like to think they will have one eye on the semi-final but there's a pressure that comes with winning these derbies. If they win, it's a huge boost for them in the League. It's there for everyone to see that this is a big game."

Albion head coach Steve Clarke says he would be saddened if the West Midlands lost another of its top-flight through Villa going down but pointed out: "No club have a God-given right to be in the Premier League."

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