The 21-year-old Democratic Republic of Congo frontman struck twice within 12 second-half minutes as the Londoners finally wilted under intense pressure, leaving it to strike partner Alan Shearer and Nolberto Solano to cement the points and take their team top of the table.
It was a night of many landmarks for Bobby Robson’s side - it was the 50th Premiership win of the manager’s reign, the club’s 100th clean sheet since they returned to the top flight and, remarkably, the first time Shearer had scored for his home town club on opening day. But, perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated that last season’s fourth-place finish was no fluke, and that the £18 million the manager has invested in youngsters Jermaine Jenas, Hugo Viana and Titus Bramble has been well spent.
Jenas and Viana in particular were outstanding, although LuaLua’s energy, pace and sense of adventure gave his side a thrilling element which proved too much for the Hammers.
Joe Cole, playing as an auxiliary striker, threatened regularly, but with little support was well marshalled by Bramble and Nikos Dabizas.
A packed house of 51,027, still buzzing from the memories of last season and the prospect of Champions League football returning to St James’ Park, arrived full of expectation, and they had plenty to applaud before the break as Robson’s side turned on the style from the off in front of England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Eriksson may have arrived hoping to see something special from Kieron Dyer, but it was LuaLua who provided the early fireworks, sending James full stretch with a fifth-minute drive and then watching a dipping volley drop inches wide four minutes later.
Viana, making his Premiership debut, headed wide six minutes before the break, but it was Shearer who almost broke the deadlock with 43 minutes gone when he ran onto Solano’s tapped free-kick and saw his goal-bound shot loop up off Tomas Repka and away for a corner.
It was not completely one-sided, however, and Eriksson will have been delighted to see Cole, promoted to a more attacking role, take what fight there was from the visitors to their hosts. Genuine chances were few and far between, but his escape from the attentions of Bernard and Dabizas to send a curling 31st-minute shot just wide of Shay Given’s right post served as a timely warning.
Newcastle attempted to increase the pressure after the break and, but for a fine block from James to deny Solano, they would have been ahead within two minutes of the restart.
LuaLua failed to make the most of Repka’s mistake on 51 minutes by shooting straight at the keeper, but Bramble forced another good save from James six minutes later with a firm header from a Viana corner.
The breakthrough arrived with 61 minutes gone when the impressive Jenas flicked on a Solano corner and LuaLua arrived to find the net.
James made another magnificent stop on 64 minutes to deny Viana a goal on his Premiership debut, but there was nothing the keeper could do to keep out LuaLua once again with 17 minutes remaining. Solano’s cross-field pass picked out Viana on the left, and his ball was perfectly weighted for LuaLua to power home his second with a Shearer-like header.
Not to be outdone, the United skipper got in on the act three minutes later as his side ran riot, turning up on the end of a superb exchange of passes between Solano and LuaLua to steer the Peruvian’s cross home. The former England captain returned the favour four minutes from time when he jinked his way into the box to cross for Solano to add a fourth goal with the Hammers by now in disarray.
NEWCASTLE: Given, Hughes, Dabizas, Bramble, Bernard, Solano (McClen 87), Dyer, Jenas, Viana (Elliott 90), Shearer, LuaLua (Ameobi 81).
WEST HAM: James, Pearce, Repka, Dailly, Winterburn, Schemmel (Labant 71), Cisse (Moncur 71), Carrick, Sinclair, Defoe, Cole.