Clarke won't bank on Lukaku return

Steve Clarke has conceded Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to return to West Brom for a second loan spell.

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Romelu Lukaku: Has caught the eye at Wes

Romelu Lukaku: Has caught the eye at Wes

Steve Clarke concedes that Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku is unlikely to return to West Brom for a second loan spell in 2013/14.

The powerful teenage forward has been a revelation at The Hawthorns this season, with regular football allowing him to showcase his true ability.

He has found game time restricted since arriving in English football, with Chelsea initially reluctant to throw him into Premier League life.

It is, however, expected that the Blues will draft Lukaku back into their plans when he returns to Stamford Bridge from a year-long loan over the summer.

Clarke appreciates that there is little he can do to prevent Chelsea from taking the 19-year-old back, with a 13-goal return proving that the Belgium international has what it takes to be a top-flight success.

He said: "He is Chelsea's player. He belongs to Chelsea and he will go back there in the summer.

"I have never thought it would be possible Chelsea would let him come back next season.

"He came on a season-long loan and we're grateful we got him."

Clarke has got his best boffins on the case as the inquest continues into the alarming dip in form which scuppered his team's European dreams.

Albion's bright hopes of fighting for European qualification were badly undermined by a terrible run of results over the new year period.

Having taken the Premier League by storm over the first half of the campaign to put them within touching distance of the top four, Clarke's side failed to win a game in January to leave European football a highly unlikely prospect.

They currently sit in eighth position on 43 points - just four adrift of fifth-placed Arsenal - but need to overhaul not only the Gunners but also Liverpool and Everton if they are to snatch an unlikely Europa League berth.

Clarke has always played down the Baggies' European ambitions but admits their traditional new year struggles are still causing him a headache.

"Within the team everybody dropped towards the end of December and in January for some reason," he said. "It's something we're still looking at and assessing to find out why.

"I'm trying to forget about January for now. I've got the medical staff looking at it now to see if they can dig anything up. I've got the fitness coach seeing if he can pick up anything from the data that month, just to see if there's anything we can tie it down to. We'll try to address it next season.

"We'll find out how good all these university graduates are and see if they can find the pattern for me."

Clarke added: "I've already got an ambition for next season and that's to win a game in January!

"It's still something we'll look at because if you look at the season as a whole, that one month is an anomaly. It's a big hole in our season and if we hadn't had that hole, maybe it could have been a better season. We have to address that."

With European qualification seemingly a step too far, Clarke simply wants his side to finish as high in the table as possible, not least because it should help him lure quality players in the summer transfer window.

"I can't comment on the financial rewards," he said. "But the closer you are to the top of the table, people look at it and think 'West Brom finished such-and-such in the table, they're in the top half, they must be a good team and have possibilities to improve again'.

"That's what you always look to do. You want to improve every year and certainly I want us to be a better team next season. If finishing high up the table attracts better players then obviously we want to finish as high as we can."

Clarke is reluctant to set a target of European qualification for next season.

"I think you have to wait and see what happens in the summer, how the squad shapes up and see how much money other teams around you spend and strengthen," he said. "Then you set out with the same objectives at the start of next season.

"Obviously for a club of West Brom's stature it will be to consolidate your position in the Premier League and try to push on from there."

Clarke revealed striker Shane Long (ankle) and defender Steven Reid (groin) are significant doubts for Saturday's match.


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