Rickie Lambert could score his 100th goal for Southampton next weekend, when the side travel to Newcastle. Getting it against Alan Pardew, the manager who signed him, would be poetic; but the landmark will also secure his status as a Saints legend.
The transformation in Saints' fortunes during Lambert's spell has been incredible, and he's played a big part. We've gone from bottom of League One, with negative points and losing convincing away to Huddersfield on Lambert's debut, to looking like a team who belong in the Premier League, and who just comprehensively outplayed the English champions.
He scored on that debut, and while he didn't find the back of the net on Saturday he did give Manchester City's defence a torrid time. As a Golden Boot winner in two of the last three seasons it's clear we wouldn't be where we are now without his goals, and that's before you consider he also led the team in assists last season. When you look at how well he's adapted to the higher levels you wonder why nobody took a chance with him before. A lack of fitness and belief, two issues he's addressed at St. Mary's, are a possible reason.
Lambert Better Than Holt
Lambert's rise through the leagues, with and without Southampton, has lead to comparisons with Grant Holt. The two also played together at Rochdale, which has fuelled such parallels. In my opinion though they are short-sighted, and underestimate Lambert's ability. He's far more than just a target man, and anyone who's watched him regularly will testify to this.
His link-up play is excellent, as demonstrated by the number of assists he gets. He's deadly from set pieces, having converted all 31 of his penalties for the club and also netted from various free-kicks. The variety of goals he's scored this season, from a physically-dominant header at the back post against Manchester United to a composed, classy, first-time finish at the Emirates shows that he is a complete striker. In terms of his all-round play he offers far more than Holt.
Lambert England Ambitions
Lambert has made no secret of his desire to represent England, but a call-up has not been forthcoming. While I may be biased, I don't see why he does not deserve a go. He's the top English scorer in the Premier League and offers England the target-man option they've looked for, whilst also being capable on the ground. Admittedly he's getting on a bit, but is still younger than Leon Osman who was recently given his first call-up. In my eyes it's a no-brainer to at least give him a chance.
Since he's been at the club we've sung about how Lambert will "take us to the Premier League"; and while it looked unlikely when he first arrived he's done it. What's next? Will he take us to the Champions League? Who knows? Regardless, he'll soon be a centurion and is already a true Southampton legend. Not many have warranted the famous number seven shirt in recent times, but he definitely has.