Rickie Lambert Deserves a Place in the England Squad

Sean ColeContributor IMarch 6, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Rickie Lambert of Southampton celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

By giving Leon Osman a first cap back in November, Roy Hodgson demonstrated that while his focus may be on the future, he's still willing to reward older players for impressive league form. This begs the question as to why, with a shortage of top-class strikers, Rickie Lambert has yet to figure in the England manager's plans?

It's reminiscent of the situation Grant Holt found himself in ahead of Euro 2012, prospering in a belated first season in the top flight but struggling to shed an unfashionable reputation. From formative years spent together at Rochdale the careers of Holt and Lambert have followed a remarkably similar path.

The spotlight seemed destined to elude the duo as they found their level bullying defences and plundering goals in the basement divisions, at Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers respectively. That is until their unstoppable ascent began when called upon to arrest the decline of two big hitters slumming it in League One.

As a talismanic fan favourite Holt's goals powered Norwich to successive promotions, only for Lambert to repeat the trick at Southampton. Holt was the second-highest English goalscorer in his Premier League debut season behind Rooney, while Lambert currently leads his countrymen with 12 league goals this season. As yet, however, neither is deemed worthy of international recognition.

Perhaps the spectre of Michael Ricketts looms large in Hodgson's thinking. A convergence of favourable circumstances helped the former Bolton man to 15 Premier League goals by February and an England cap against the Netherlands before his bumbling inadequacy was cruelly exposed at Middlesbrough.

Ricketts has since become a byword for the laughable one-cap wonder, the player picked on a run of spectacular form which belies their true ability. Jay Bothroyd's name was added to the pantheon in 2010 when Fabio Capello was left with few alternatives other than the Championship's leading frontman.

This is decidedly not the case with Lambert, however, who has been consistently prolific, recently notching a 100th Saints goal in just his fourth season with the club. In amongst this century there's been tap-ins, long-range efforts, headers, volleys and penalties. The variety is as impressive as his flawless record from the spot under pressure.

More than an unerring knack for finding the net, he's possessed of tidy technique and a good all-round game. A Holt-like battering ram but with more strings to his bow, Lambert is equally as good on the floor as he is in the air. His link-up play with runners from midfield, as Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana can testify, is fantastic.

The upcoming round of fixtures sees England take on San Marino and Montenegro. Although hardly the ideal testing ground for a player's international credentials, Lambert has earned a call up on merit with his one-in-two strike rate.

Given that Jermain Defoe has only just returned from injury and Danny Welbeck is going through a goal drought, it would be disappointing if Hodgson fails to include the 31-year-old this time around; another example of the whims of status continuing to win out over tangible contribution.