MANCHESTER - Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku has been "top drawer" in his debut season at Old Trafford despite not playing alongside a partner up front, former striker Andy Cole has said.
Lukaku, who signed from Everton in the close season, opened his account for Jose Mourinho's side in the 2-1 European Super Cup defeat by Real Madrid and has added another 25 goals in all competitions this season.
The Belgium international has largely operated as a lone forward and Cole, who partnered Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham in United's treble-winning season in 1999, said the 24-year-old had exceeded his expectations.
"It's difficult to be a lone striker and especially if you don't get the service... it could be described as the graveyard shift because it is tough," Cole, who played nearly 200 league games for the club, told United's website (www.manutd.com).
"He has played the majority of games (this season) and that says a lot about him. He has not been injured and, for his first season, I think he has been top drawer."
Lukaku began the season strongly but went off the boil, going without a goal in seven games in all competitions between October and November. He has since found form and scored his 100th Premier League goal against Swansea City last weekend.
"Sometimes people have questioned Romelu and said he hasn't done this or that, but you have to be brutally honest: if you don't get the service as a lone man it is tough," Cole said.
"I think it has probably been a lot tougher than he would have thought and he appreciates that you can't have a weekend off at United, which he could have done at his previous clubs Everton and West Bromwich Albion."
Second-placed United have 68 points from 31 games and will look to deny leaders Manchester City the win they require to clinch the league title on Saturday.