• We are so close to Europe we can smell it, says on-loan striker
• West Brom two points behind sixth-placed Everton after 2-1 win
Nothing much seems to embarrass Chelsea, on or off the pitch. Even so, the Blues must be quietly relieved they did not waive the clause in Romelu Lukaku's season-long loan contract with West Bromwich Albion that prohibits the Belgian playing against his parent club. On current form, what Lukaku might have done to Chelsea's creaking defence when the two clubs meet at Stamford Bridge next Saturday does not bear thinking about.
On the other hand, neither did Chelsea exercise their option to recall the powerful 19-year-old striker during last month's transfer window. To the relief of the Albion manager, Steve Clarke, the London club chose to buy Demba Ba instead, leaving Lukaku to continue scoring the goals which are giving the Baggies a realistic chance of achieving European qualification. "There are 11 games to go and we are so close to Europe you can smell it," said the engaging Lukaku, whose double secured the win which made the Midlanders the first of the mid-table bunch to reach the 40-point benchmark and left them just two points behind sixth-placed Everton.
"For me, after playing in Europe with Anderlecht when I was younger, you want to do it again, especially in the Premier League, that's the best thing that can happen to a young man's career.
"I'm just having a wonderful year. Everything is going well, I'm working hard in training. They know what I want to do, what I have to improve every day. Every day I come in with a smile on my face."
He talks to Chelsea, who paid Anderlecht £18m for him in August 2011, every 10 days or so. "I don't know what they will decide. There are a lot of clever people over there and they are seeing that I am playing in a good way," he said. "I just want to be a part of them. Let me step my game up and take West Brom into Europe."
If he does, surely Chelsea would not be daft enough to sanction another long loan for a player who two years ago was being described as a second Didier Drogba. The similarities are there, not least in build and strength, though Lukaku is the first to acknowledge there are areas, notably in the air, where he can get much better.
Clarke said: "Rom is very level-headed, he understands where he wants to go in the game, what he wants to be, how good he wants to be, and he's prepared to work hard at that. For me as a coach, that's refreshing.
"Hopefully, he is improving all the time because we said to him when he came here we would help him to do that, we would give him more minutes on the pitch than he got in his first season at Chelsea. He said he would come in and try and help the Albion this season and we've both been true to our word. It's been a good partnership."
That the force is with Lukaku was evident in both his goals. The first, a penalty given after Craig Gardner handled a Liam Ridgwell cross, infuriated Sunderland because their own appeal when Gareth McAuley blocked an Adam Johnson shot was turned down.
The second was a triumph of hope and persistence, Lukaku closing down Titus Bramble's under-hit backpass and seeing Simon Mignolet's attempted clearance rebound off a shin and back into the goal.
Stéphane Sessègnon pulled a goal back with a cleverly placed shot and, as the frustrated Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill pointed out, the visitors had a number of chances to equalise in a match from which they deserved at least a point.
"It's been the same story in the last three games. Unfortunately by Tuesday the performance will be forgotten and it is down as a result, and we need to win some matches, we know that," said O'Neill. "I am concerned. Any side in the bottom half is looking over their shoulders until you get the required number of points."
Man of the match Romelu Lukaku (West Bromwich Albion)