Stoke City: It was a blue day for Stoke when Brit rivals bagged Chelsea starlet
STOKE lost out to West Brom in the chase for Romelu Lukaku because the Baggies had better contacts at Chelsea.
The 19-year-old Belgium international arrives at the Britannia Stadium this afternoon with 13 goals to his name in 29 appearances since joining West Brom on loan from Chelsea.
His record – the best by a teenager in the Premier League since Michael Owen 14 years ago – has Stoke boss Tony Pulis wondering what might have been after he inquired about Lukaku's availability 10 months ago.
But while he spoke to Chelsea number two Steve Holland, Stoke's one-time Academy director, Albion boss Steve Clarke was able to call in a few favours after playing and coaching at Stamford Bridge for more than a decade.
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"I spoke to Steve Holland about him and he was very complimentary," said Pulis.
"That was at the back end of last season just after they'd won the European Cup.
"But speaking to Steve, he said five or six clubs wanted to take him.
"So we were aware of Lukaku, but I think Steve (Clarke) got in first because of his connections with Chelsea, having worked there for a good few years.
"He was well respected at Chelsea and they gave him the nod, which I can understand. It's always nice to have those sorts of contacts and he's certainly done well there."
Lukaku – dubbed the next Didier Drogba when he signed for Chelsea in August 2011 – arrives in the Potteries with seven goals in his last eight league games.
"I think he found it difficult at the beginning," Pulis observed, "but he's got better as the season has gone on, scored a few goals and grown in confidence."
Lukaku faces a Stoke defence still missing Robert Huth as he completes a three-match ban, while Matthew Etherington remains a huge loss if he fails to shake off back trouble.
Stoke are seeking only their second win in 11 league games, but Pulis remains sympathetic towards his players.
"It's been the kind of season and the kind of run where things that could have gone for us have gone against us and actually dragged us down.
"There's nine games to go and we had a good chat about it. We have to play every game to our maximum and get as many points as we can."