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Money Well Spent? The Rickie Lambert Factor.

“If we make sure we can get Rickie in the right areas and give the right supply to him then he will put the ball in the back of the net, his career shows you that.” – Nigel Adkins, September 2011.

“He stands just over six foot three Rickie, Rickie…”

When Rickie Lambert signed for Saints in August 2009 for a price of around £1 million, it raised a few eyebrows amongst the other League One clubs as a big amount of money to be spending on a player, so soon after the club had been in severe financial trouble.

It certainly signalled the intent of Markus Liebherr and the new regime, that they would outlay that amount on a player that had never played higher than the third tier. Was it a risk? Perhaps it was at the time, although Lambert’s record speaks for itself at that level. Hindsight of course shows us that it certainly wasn’t, and actually a million pounds would represent a significant bargain. Who could put a price on Lambert’s worth to Saints now?

Lambert completed his one hundredth league game for Saints last Saturday, where his brace of penalties against Watford took him to fifty nine league goals and a record of over a goal every other league game. There were some question marks over whether Lambert could make the step up in his first season at this level, and eight goals in the first ten games would suggest that he can.

Lambert is every bit a goalscorer, proving so everywhere he has been, certainly the Bristol Rovers fans thought they let him go too cheaply in 2009, and still haven’t got a bad word to say about him.

Actually Lambert is one of those players who has improved drastically with age, and bettered his goalscoring record with every transfer and move up. Proving that sometimes, playing in and around players of a higher quality and working with better facilities can bring out the best in those that are willing to work.

Having begun his career at Blackpool, things didn’t take off for the young scouser at Bloomfield Road, and his stuttering professional career could have almost ended before it started, when he struggled to get a new club after being released by the Tangerines. Thankfully, Macclesfield Town took a chance on him, and it was a signing that paid off for the Silkmen. Having scored ten goals for the club in the 2001/02 season Lambert had caught the eye of near neighbours Stockport County and ex -Saint Carlton Palmer, prompting them to pay three hundred thousand pounds for the striker, tripling the Cheshire side’s record transfer income.

Success on the pitch were in short supply at the County Ground, the club faltering under Palmer and then Sammy McIlroy, but Rickie showed his resolve, still netting twelve times as the club battled relegation in 2003/04. Despite this personal success, Lambert was faced with dropping a division in 2005, heading to Spotland.

Rochdale Rickie. The beginning.

Rochdale proved to be a good move for Lambert, as he hit his first twenty goal season in 2005/06 even though the club proved to be inconsistent, finishing mid-table in League Two, and he was soon on the move again. This time Rickie would venture outside of the North West for the first time, joining Bristol Rovers for two hundred thousand pound in the summer of 2006.

Rochdale fan Sarah from the highly popular blog Girl on a Terrace remembers Lambert fondly:-

‘In all his time at Rochdale we always knew that we were lucky to have Rickie Lambert and that one day he’d go onto bigger and better things; we were just happy to have him for as long as we could. The fact that he played alongside Grant Holt too made it even more special – we were the envy of the majority of clubs in our league with probably the best attacking duo. We signed him from Stockport where surprisingly he’d failed to make that much of an impression as far as I can remember. 

In the 05/06 season (his second at Rochdale) I believe he played every game and ended the season as the league’s top scorer. Anyone who knows Lambert’s style of play will know about his free-kicks and they became pretty much expected every game; it almost a dead cert that if we got a free-kick outside the area then Lambert would calmly and cooly pop it into the back of the net. 

We sold Rickie Lambert to Bristol Rovers in his third season with us for £200,000; it was a huge loss to the club, team and fans alike. We went on to make a further £25,000 from sell on clauses after he helped take Bristol Rovers to the play offs and eventually promotion.

I always look back at his time at Rochdale (especially playing alongside Grant Holt) and think “what if we’d never sold him”.’

It was at the Memorial Ground that Lambert really came to prominence. Despite a slow goalscoring start, he was to become a cult hero of the Gas fans, and it was soon a seemingly weekly occurrence in the 2008/09 season on Soccer Saturday that Jeff Stelling would be lauding him as having scored again. Lambert hit twenty nine league goals that season, an impressive feat in any team, even more so in one stuck in mid table.

Rovers fan Henry Burridge gives his lowdown on Lambert’s time by the Avon:-

“Having forked out £200,000 for Rickie Lambert, a fair wedge for any League 2 club, Bristol Rovers held high expectations of the Scouse forward. It took the big man a while to settle but upon his departure to Southampton there was more than a twinge of sadness amongst the average Gashead.

The fierce strike past Bristol City’s Adriano Basso that gave Rovers victory over ‘the dark side’ was enough to make him a part of Rovers folklore alone, but the goals didn’t stop there. A superlative 40 yard half volley against Swindon and a late header against Hartlepool lead Rovers to the play-offs, eventually winning promotion to League 1 after years in the doldrums.

While those who had shined in winning promotion for the Pirates failed to make the step up Lambert took to the third tier like a duck to water. 15 goals were scored in the league with another four in the FA Cup to boot, helping Rovers to the quarter finals of the prestigious competition, including a free kick against Southampton.

If what was seen in that season was potential then next season would be the blossoming. It seems odd to use such a dainty word when referring to a hefty man of 6’1” but the technique Lambert possessed was that of a class higher than League 1. Great in the air and on the floor, a cerebral footballing brain and two feet like sledgehammers, the only thing lacking from Lambert’s game was a yard or two of pace, though if he had that in his locker then there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been a Premier League player.

In his final season at Rovers Lambert flirted with the 30 goal mark, eventually falling one short, but the summer months would be torture for a set of fans that were just waiting for the inevitable bid to come in. You could not argue with the departure of Lambert to Southampton, going to a club with excellent facilities and getting a much increased wage. At the time the deal looked good, having seen the man go from strength to strength since his move the £1,000,000 fee seems a pittance.

There is still far more to come from Lambert, now making the same impact in the Championship, I live in hope that there is a weighty sell on clause upon his next transfer.”  Read more from Henry at his site:- HJB Sports.

“He’ll take us to the Premier League, Rickie, Rickie…”

Rovers Rickie. The Spotlight.

When Alan Pardew made him his first signing at Saints the following summer, some suggested he might have been overpriced, but Saints plan to sign players that could perform both at League One level and in the Championship showed faith in Lambert to make the grade. Saints started poorly in their first League One season but finished 7th despite a points deduction and Lambert hit thirty league goals, as well as three on route to winning the Johnstones Paint Trophy.

Renamed “Southampton’s Goal Machine” by the St. Mary’s faithful, Lambert represented all that was good about the new Saints positive outlook. His second season saw some doubt creep in though, as Lambert found himself a victim of his own success. A slow start to the season for both Lambert and the team saw frustration set in amongst the fans, and as Alan Pardew moved on, Lambert found his role in the side change under new gaffer Nigel Adkins. Having been very much the target man under the more direct Pardew, Lambert proved himself as a goalscorer, under the more possession based Adkins, Lambert proved himself as a footballer. Adapting his game to suit that of the new manager, Lambert’s ability as a provider and an all round player came to the fore, amazingly his perceived lack of goals led some to suggest he was having a poor season, he still scored twenty one league goals as Saints gained promotion to the Championship.

Saint Rickie. The Success.

It has been well documented that Lambert has worked considerably on his fitness under Adkins, and has never looked so svelte. Finally Saints have a number seven befitting that figure, stunning goals (like the screamer against MK Dons), and an ability from a dead ball situation befitting the great man himself.

But could Rickie make the step up to a level he has never played at before? Eight goals in ten Championship games so far would suggest he could. What’s more there have been murmurs of interest from Premier League clubs, most notably Newcastle United, now managed by Pardew.

So has he been worth the £1 million spent in 2009? I think anyone would find it difficult to suggest he hasn’t. If he and the team carry on as they are, he could well get the chance to prove himself at the highest level, but having just missed out on the nPower Championship Player of the Month for September, Rickie Lambert has nothing left to prove. I would love to know what price Saints fans would put on him now, for me he is priceless, his role in our team and the way we play would be exceptionally difficult to replace. Perhaps even impossible.

Great in the air, a physical presence who will give any centre half a hard time, a finisher and a footballer. What we might have is the epitome of a great forward. What is for certain is that the resurgence of this football club has come on the back of a lot of Rickie Lambert goals, and you can’t put a price on that.

“He gets the ball he takes the piss, He wears the shirt of Matt Le Tiss, Rickie Lambert Southampton’s Goal Machine.”

Chris

Championship Preview Part 4…

The Fourth and final instalment of the 2011/12 Championship season preview by the fans. Following on from parts one, two and three, the final six Championship fans give their opinion on how their clubs will fare…

Peterborough United:-

Name:- Steve Thorpe

Club:- Peterborough United

Twitter:- @Freekicks

Website:-  Freekicks Foundation

What can we expect from your club this season? Goals galore!! probably at both ends to be honest. Even with CMS gone we still have Boyd, Tomlin and McCann who all got double figures last season. Add to that Nicky Ajose who comes with a big reputation, we should score plenty. In pre season we have conceded an average of 2 a game, we do need to tighten up at the back! There is a great team spirit among the lads, hopefully that will pull us through!

Who is your most important player? Grant McCann the skipper and set piece king, his quality and experience is something we didn’t have at this level last time. Not just the goals he scores but he also got 13 assists last season, goals from set pieces will be very important I think.

Your predicted finishing position? 15th…we will flirt with relegation but save ourselves in February/March.

Who might win the Championship? I don’t think you can see past Leicester really, they seem to be getting quality in all over, if they can gel together as a team early on in the season, they could runaway with it.

Who definitely won’t? MK Dons (If you want a serious answer to this let me know).

Most anticipated fixture? Really looking forward to West Ham away, feels like one of those days similar to Newcastle two seasons ago when loads of Posh fans turnout. Although I hope it’s not the same result and fallout as that game!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Brighton v Hull….the Mac Attack on the same pitch again although on opposite sides. Both are great lads and deserve success and still loved by Posh fans.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Mackail-Smith! He is irreplaceable not just for the goals but mostly for his work rate and turning lost causes into chances.

You find yourself stuck in Sixfields. How do you escape unnoticed? Easy! Sneak one of those implements that kids use to split their lego up with and take out a few of the lego bricks from the main stand and Bob’s your Uncle, back on the A45 home!

Portsmouth:-

Name:- The Pompey Pages

Club:- Portsmouth

Twitter:- @pompey_pages

Website:- The Pompey Pages

What can we expect from your club this season? A promotion push is obviously the aim, but it all depends on how Steve Cotterill does in the transfer window between now and the start of the season as we’ve still got a tiny squad.

Who is your most important player? We had a number of key figures last season like Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins and Joel Ward and with David Norris, Luke Varney, Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson all added to the ranks it could be any of them, but our money’s on Varney to light up the Championship next season.

Your predicted finishing position? Top 10 would be ideal however there are a lot of big and strong sides in the Championship next season so a promotion push will be tough. 

Who might win the Championship? Leicester have spent big and West Ham have got a lot of quality experienced players so I think it’s a two horse race to be honest.

Who definitely won’t? Southampton 😉

Most anticipated fixture? It has to be the South Coast derby home and away doesn’t it? The Pompey v Southampton rivalry is back on this season and with some big 4-1 victories over Southampton the last two games, both teams and both sets of fans will be well up for it!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I think Leicester v West Ham will be a big one. As I said, I think they’ll both be fighting for promotion and they’ve got some quality players.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Scott Parker’s still at West Ham isn’t he? He’d be pretty useful. Mind you we’re a bit desperate for another striker at the moment. I’d be quite keen on Charlie Austin or Jay Bothroyd to link up with Kitson and Varney. 

You find yourself stuck in St Mary’s. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s a tough one! To be fair I don’t think anyone caught in a Pompey shirt in St Mary’s is gonna be welcomed with open arms. Maybe use Joel Ward and his new found strength (following his conditioning trip to USA) as a bodyguard.

Liam Lawrence. Making a fist of it at Portsmouth.

Reading:-

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Club:- Reading

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

Website:- The Tilehurst End

What can we expect from your club this season? I think we’ll be pretty solid this season, as we’ve (at the time of writing) retained the core of the side that did so well last season. A lot depends on whether Shane Long goes (and if so how much for) but I’m confident we’ll be in and around the play-offs again. 

Who is your most important player? Again depends if he’s still here but right now it’s Shane Long. The striker’s second half form turned us from a mid-table side to being 90 minutes from the Premier League and his goals will again be crucial. If he goes it’ll be up to Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff to provide some magic from the wings.

Your predicted finishing position? Right now I’ll say 8th.

Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham or Leicester right now. Big Sam’s bought wisely and is exactly the type of manager the club needs, while Sven’s been spending cash like mad (including our captain Matt Mills).

Who definitely won’t? Peterborough will struggle. The last time they were in this league they were so far off the pace and even last year they conceded goals for fun. Losing Mackail-Smith is a killer for them and it’s hard to see them surviving.

Most anticipated fixture? Trips to St Mary’s and the AMEX have been looked forward too most of the summer, while our games with West Ham usually entertain. 

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Some real grudge matches in the league this year, Southampton v Portsmouth, Millwall v Leeds, Brighton v Palace, this division isn’t for the faint of heart this season!

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan. Nolan was fantastic as Newcastle walked the league two years ago and while not the most likeable player out there he’s a  terrific player.

You find yourself stuck in the Kassam Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?  Quietly make my way to the end without a stand and sneak over the fence!

Southampton:-

Name:- Chris Rann

Club:- Southampton

Twitter:- @crstig

Website:- georgeweahscousin.com

What can we expect from your club this season? Attacking, free flowing, attractive football, quality soundbites from Nigel Adkins and a team on the ascendancy as opposed to the last time we were in this division. 

Who is your most important player? Adam Lallana. Since January all the focus has been on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but on the other wing we have a young player who is far more accomplished and far more important to the team. Lallana is a class act, and is liable to tear holes in your defence at the drop of a hat. When Lallana ticks we can beat anybody. Honourable mention for David Connolly too, IF he can stay fit, he is still a fantastic goalscorer at this level.

Your predicted finishing position? 10th. I think we are a couple more players away from being a real contender. So I might be a little bit more optimistic if the expected “two more signings” happen.

Who might win the Championship? The obvious answers are West Ham and Leicester, but I have got a sneaking feeling for Ipswich Town.

Who definitely won’t? I fear that Coventry City are going to be the next of the ex-Prem clubs to drop into the third tier.

Most anticipated fixture? Hmmm. Tough one, but I think I will have to say the two games against our poor relations down the road. They have trounced us the last two times we have played them, but this time we are on a level footing and the blue few have no longer got a team built on other peoples money.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I am quite interested to see what Nathan Tyson will do if he scores the winner against Forest…

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Nicky Maynard from Bristol City. Fantastic striker, who I think would score bagfuls playing off of Rickie Lambert.

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I would open two packets of Scampi fries and put them in my pockets, draw an anchor on each forearm in biro, speak in a fake cockney accent and talk about nothing but “scummers”. This should see me blend in with the locals. Failing that, I will dress like the sheik from Cannonball Run and walk about with a bag labelled “swag”, the Fratton faithful will be so busy putting up “Welcome to Portsmouth” banners on the flyovers of the M27, I will be able to walk out unnoticed…

He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana, makes Messi look sh**e...

Watford:-

Name:- Mike Parkin

Club:- Watford

Twitter:- @rookerymike

Website:- From the Rookery End

What can we expect from your club this season? A low average age! As a result of the club’s precarious financial state, we were forced to field more of our younger players last year than we perhaps would have liked. We’ve made a few additions to the squad over the summer, noticably Chris Iwelumo, but we’ll still be relying on our array of Harefield Academy graduates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they performed admirably last year, but the Championship seems incredibly competitive this year, big teams entering the division from both the Premier League and Division One, so they will need to deliver for us again. Whatever happens, a team managed by Sean Dyche is always going to give 100% so I’d be surprised if we didn’t provide a tough challenge for the majority of teams in this league.

Who is your most important player? Having said we’re largely dependent on youth, we do have a couple of experienced players. Cult hero Lloyd Doyley is entering his testimonial year, whilst fellow defender Martin Taylor is a vital part of our defensive unit. Our most important player is another man with experience – our captain John Eustace. Eustace is a born leader, barking orders on the pitch whilst crunching into tackles, breaking up play and kick-starting many of our attacking moves. The sort of player you hate playing against, but adore when he’s one of yours. The news that John Eustace had signed a contract extension was without doubt the best news of the summer.

Your predicted finishing position? If you’ve ever listened to me on the ‘From the Rookery End’ podcast, you’ll know that I’m not the most optimistic of souls! I do however think it’s fair to say that our single aim for this season is safety. If we can avoid relegation, it will have been a successful year and so anything above 21st will be god news as far as I’m concerned. We certainly have the talent to survive, but a good start to the season will be vital – especially with Sean Dyche entering his first season in management.

Who might win the Championship? Leicester City have been attracting a lot of attention with their eye catching activity in the transfer market, so I’d imagine they will be short odds. Will all the new signings gel though? I’m not sure. Their fans will expect a lot after all the investment, so their will be definite pressure on Sven and his team. Of the relegated sides I think West Ham United will be challenging, whilst Division One champions Brighton will be full of confidence after demolishing their opponents last year. I’d be surprised if they won it, but I can certainly see them making the play-offs. If you were to give me a fiver to back a winner, I’d go for Nottingham Forest. I think they have pulled off a master stroke in getting Steve McLaren on board, he has a wealth of experience and in getting rid of the permanently angry Billy Davies, I imagine the City Ground is already a more pleasant place to be. They get big crowds and have a decent squad – I’m going with Nottingham Forest.

Who definitely won’t? Birmingham City. Things are unravelling at an alarming pace at St Andrews and their fans will be hoping they can simply survive the season. They are losing players left right and centre and have seemingly have no funds with which to bring in replacements. It’s looking bleak for the blues.

Most anticipated fixture? Over the summer, most of our key players and staff departed for Wales. Danny Graham went to Swansea, whilst what felt like every one else followed Malky Mackay to Cardiff City. There was a lot of good will towards Malky after what he achieved in his time as boss at Vicarage Road, but this evaporated when he used his knowledge of contract situations at Watford to pinch Don Cowie, our influential midfielder, on a free. I think a lot of fans will be looking forward to the games with Cardiff and praying that we can prove to those that left they made a mistake. From a personal point of view I’m looking forward to visiting Brighton’s shiny new stadium and finding out first hand if they make good on their promise of lighting the away end in the colour of the visiting team. Intriguing!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I always enjoy watching the joys of the South Coast derby unfold – ideally from a very safe distance. With the Saints back in the Championship, I am looking forward to watching Southampton and Portsmouth do their thing. South coast neighbours Brighton also have their eyes on a tasty derby with long time rivals Crystal Palace, so that will be good fun to watch.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? He’s actually got a lot to prove at Championship level, but he’s a local lad and is rumoured to be a Watford supporter, showing him to be of impeccable taste. He needs a haircut, but I reckon Craig Mackail-Smith would be a decent addition to any Championship side. It will be interesting to see how CMS does at this level.

You find yourself stuck in Kenilworth Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Very simple. I would simply explain that I am an official from the Football League and am therefore obviously very lost. I probably wouldn’t even need to explain; they have been non league for so long now, they simply wouldn’t recognise a supporter from a football league club! Bless their cotton socks.

West Ham United:-

Name:- Iain Dale

Club:- West Ham

Twitter:- @iaindalewestham

Website:- West Ham til I die

What can we expect from your club this season? A top two finish. Hopefully!

Who is your most important player? Kevin Nolan. If he can score his usual amount of goals then we can be very hopeful of promotion at the first attempt.

Your predicted finishing position? 1 or 2.

Who might win the Championship? Us!

Who definitely won’t? The others!

Most anticipated fixture? It’s certainly not Millwall. Maybe v Leeds?

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Southampton v Portsmouth.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Shane Long.

You find yourself stuck in the Den. How do you escape unnoticed? Quickly get some extra tattoos…

Kevin Nolan is many people's pick to star this season.

Well that wraps up the 2011/12 Championship preview by the top club bloggers and tweeters. All there is to do now, is sit back watch the season unfold and see our optimism and predictions die before our eyes…

Chris