When Southampton’s year-long unbeaten home league record was seriously under threat of coming to a disappointing end, as they trailed 2-1 against Ian Holloway’s Blackpool a couple of weeks ago, the team needed a last-minute hero to salvage something and give the team a vital bit of extra momentum ahead of the following weekend’s fierce local derby against Portsmouth. Talismanic striker Rickie Lambert duly dispatched a bullet header to give the Saints a late equaliser, and further enhanced his reputation as Southampton’s goal-machine.
But, despite being four goals clear in the race for the Championship golden boot already, can the former Bristol Rovers and Rochdale striker realistically be the man to lead Saints to a promotion charge and continue to bang in the goals in the top flight if they get there? Here are five things you need to know about the Liverpudlian hit man.
1. Feed the Lamb and he will score
His goal record since he joined Southampton in August 2009 has been simply incredible. In 128 starts in all competitions, the former Bristol Rovers striker scored 72 times as he spearheaded a free-scoring Southampton side to promotion last season, and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the season before that. The club bought him for £1m, the first real marquee signing since the takeover of late Swiss Billionaire Markus Liebherr, and he has been worth every penny. He came with a prolific goal-scoring reputation, having been joint top scorer in the football league in the 2008/09 season with Bristol Rovers, but there were question marks as to whether he could be a star in a club expected to make a quick return to the Championship.
He scored on his debut for the Saints against Northampton, and he proved to be an ever present talisman, hitting the back of the net 35 times in 58 appearances in his first campaign on the South Coast.
The club bought him for £1m, the first real marquee signing since the takeover of late Swiss Billionaire Markus Liebherr, and he has been worth every penny.
He proved to be the leading act in Southampton’s promotion winning campaign, despite struggling to find form in the first half of the season, before netting 21 times in total. He owed much to the support of former Tottenham striker Lee Barnard, but Lambert still proved his worth and came in to 2011/12 with confidence soaring high.
The 29-year-old’s first taste of the Championship was one that many critics thought would be a tough test, but he has got off to a flyer. Fourteen goals in twenty games, including hat-tricks against Nottingham Forest and Brighton, have made him one of the most lethal strikers so far this term.
2. He’s not bad at creating goals either
Almost as remarkable as his scoring record, Lambert has a knack of bringing others in to play with his commanding aerial presence and clever hold up play that has seen him chip in with an assist almost every three games. The striker has set up 39 goals during his time on the South Coast, and has been in the top two of the team’s assists charts in each season he’s been at the club. If he does make it to the Premier League in one way or another, he could be well worth a cheeky gamble for Fantasy League managers across the country.
3. Much like a certain former Southampton number seven, he’s lethal from set pieces.
Choruses of “He gets the ball, he takes the p*ss, he wears the shirt of Matt Le Tiss – Rickie Lambert, Southampton’s goal-machine” regularly ring round St. Mary’s Stadium these days and, while he obviously doesn’t emulate the amount of spectacular goals that the Saints’ legend produced, he certainly does the shirt justice in the set piece department.
Lambert’s penalty-taking ability is on a par with “Le God”, and he has yet to miss a single spot kick in 22 attempts. As far as I can remember, they have all been well-struck and emphatic. The fact that Rickie gets so much power on his penalties makes it particularly difficult for most keepers to get close – and the confidence and precision shows no signs of relenting.
Free-kicks wise, he is more than capable of producing the goods. His 20-yeard belter against local rivals AFC Bournemouth is one of a few fine free-kicks he has scored since he’s donned Le Tissier’s old shirt.
Lambert’s penalty-taking ability is on a par with “Le God”, and he has yet to miss a single spot kick in 22 attempts.
4. A Lambert-esque striker is making an impact on the Premier League right now
There will always be question marks over Lambert’s capability to step up to the Premier League when he hasn’t tested himself in the top flight in his career, but if there is ever a need for inspiration, look no further than Norwich City captain Grant Holt.
Holt comes from a similar background to Lambert, plying his trade in the lower echelons of the football league throughout his career before getting his big break at the age of 30. Much like his club, Holt has been a revelation, scoring six times in as many starts and helping the newly promoted Canaries to a very respectable tenth in the division. Holt has also spearheaded Norwich from League One to the top flight via two consecutive promotions – something that Southampton are hoping to replicate this season. He’s also got a prolific scoring record in the football league and is a powerful target man. A sense of Déjà vu anyone?
5. Ever-present Lambert has the stamina to deliver week-in, week-out
A typical target man’s fitness and ability to keep up with the pace of the top flight will always be in question, but Lambert’s appearance record shows he can keep up his performance levels on a regular basis. Lambert averaged 55 games in his first two seasons at Southampton – a massive test on the stamina and ability to lead from the front week-in, week-out. But he has shown he can do just that with a consistent scoring record and a great deal of success with his team-mates already. The one game he did miss this season, a 2-0 defeat to struggling Doncaster Rovers, shows that Saints could definitely do with another quality striker to take the pressure off Lambert, but this has only confirmed that Lambert’s a true danger man in the Championship, and he could be pivotal if Southampton are to sustain their push for promotion to the Premier League this season.
The striker goes in to Southampton’s eagerly anticipated derby clash with South Coast rivals Portsmouth on Sunday in fine form, and a match-winning performance against the arch rivals could give another indication that he is the right man to attempt to fire Saints to promotion.
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