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Saints march on towards promotion to the beat of Lambert's drum

Value for money in terms of transfer activity is more or less an alien concept in football. But every once in a while a player comes along who seems worth every bit of money spent to acquire his services. One such player is Southampton's Rickie Lambert.

The Fazakerley-born striker scored his third hat-trick of the season in the Saints 3-0 away win at Watford on Saturday to send them back to the top of the Championship. His goals look set to lead Nigel Adkins' men to consecutive promotions.

When Alan Pardew brought Lambert to St. Mary's in a deal worth over £1m in 2009, it seemed like a lot for a side who had just been relegated to League One to spend on a player who had been at five clubs in six years - only achieving notable success at two.

But 139 games and 80 goals later, with Lambert way ahead of the chasing pack at the top of the Championship scoring charts on 19, £1m seems like a drop in the ocean given the £90m windfall that awaits a successful promotion push for the Saints.

Southampton are one of the Football League's success stories. Amidst the financial crises that have blighted clubs all over the country - not least the Saints themselves who entered administration in 2009 - the club has emerged debt-free, clearly heading in the right direction.

Teamwork

Like Norwich before them, Southampton have demonstrated that with a visionary manager, a committed set of players, and teamwork from top to bottom, success on the field need not bankrupt you. 

Last season, Southampton established themselves as a fish far too big for the small pond of League One and when the inevitable promotion occurred, Adkins' men continued exactly where they had left off. In fact, the Saints have lost only 17 of their last 79 league games dating back to the start of last year.

Just as Grant Holt fired in the goals to spearhead Norwich's rise from League One to the Premiership - perhaps the most impressive back-to-back years in recent times - Rickie Lambert is well-placed to repeat the feat with Southampton. Any side is only as good as its strikers and in Lambert, the Saints have the best one in the league.

After failing to make the grade at Blackpool who he joined as a trainee in 1998, Lambert has performed better for each club he has played for but rose to particular prominence during his time with Bristol Rovers when four goals in a 4-2 victory over Southend really showcased his poaching potential.

But Lambert's time at St. Mary's will define his career. Much like Aguero and Dzeko for Manchester City, he rewards defensive solidity and midfield creativity by converting chances into victories. Aged 30 now, Lambert has developed his play and increased his goal tally year on year. I suggest now, as the Saints march towards the Premier League, Lambert is at the peak of his powers.

By Chris Smith


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