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Southampton star Rickie Lambert looks ahead to the 2010/11 season, and tells James Maw who he thinks could rival Saints for promotion from League One.
Hello Rickie, looking forward to the new season?
Yeah, I just can’t wait to get started now to be honest. We start with a really big game against Plymouth on Saturday and although I’m a bit gutted I won’t be making it myself thanks to a slight groin strain, I should be back for Tuesday night (against Bournemouth in the League Cup), if not next Saturday at MK Dons.
How important is a strong start to a promotion push?
We’ll definitely be looking to hit the ground running. We know how important a good start is because not having one last season was probably what cost us a play-off place. We’ve got to take the level of performance we were putting in during the second half of last season into this one, and if we do that we’ll be OK.
Did the mental blow of the 10-point deduction last season contribute to that sluggish start?
I think there were a few factors. The club had just been relegated from the Championship, so maybe some people were still on a downer, and quite a few players had left and new ones had arrived and we didn’t quite gel straight away.
I think we won one of the first 10 games and then we were already about 25 points away from the play-offs. But from then our form over the rest of the season was good and we nearly made it back up towards the end.
Does being most people’s tip for promotion mean there’s even more pressure on Saints this time round?
Obviously the pressure is there now we’ve got that favourites tag - everybody is going to want to beat us – but we didn’t make ourselves favourites, it’s other people that have done that. We’re just concentrating on trying to do our own thing and taking each game as it comes and hopefully we’ll have been good enough come the end of the season.
But what about you personally? Is there pressure on you as English football’s top goalscorer last season and the wearer of Matt Le Tissier’s old No.7 shirt?
I don’t think so. Perhaps there was last season when I first arrived for quite big money for a League One player moving to another League One club. But I think now I’ve proven myself here and I’m confident I can score goals in this league. My aim is to try and do the same in the Championship and hopefully one day the Premier League.
The owner, Markus Liebherr, has stated the Premier League is the aim for the club too, do you think you can help them get there?
That’s my dream. The chairman’s ambitions are second to none and they’re matched by the manager and the players – we all want the club to be in the same place. We’ve all got to do our bit to help make it happen, because if you don’t you’re going to lose your place in the team and not get that chance.
Was that ambition what attracted you to Saints? Were there not Championship clubs interested when you left Bristol Rovers?
There were other clubs interested, but nobody really made a firm offer. As soon as Southampton came in there was only one decision in my mind – the size of the club, the ambition and the manager made it simple.
How have you found working with Alan Pardew?
He’s been brilliant for me. I’ve really developed my game since I left Bristol Rovers, and he’s helped me do that. It’s down to the coaching staff here too, of course, and the physios and fitness coaches.
To go from the kind of clubs I’ve been at before to a club like Southampton where everything is Premier League standard has been absolutely brilliant and has helped me improve so much.
There was some talk at the end of last season that Pardew may have been leaving the club, was that unsettling for the players?
There were a lot of rumours and it was obviously nice when that died down. The players are and always have been behind the manager, so to find out that he was staying was obviously nice. Everybody at the club wants the same thing and everyone has been working really hard in pre-season and we’re really looking forward to the season ahead.
Which teams do you think could be rivals for promotion?
I think it’ll be tight again like last season and there’ll be a few teams right up there. The ones that come to mind straightaway are teams like Sheffield Wednesday – obviously they’re a big club and they’ve just come down so they could do well, Huddersfield – they’ve spent a few bob and will be expecting to be up near the top, obviously Plymouth who’ve come down too and Brentford, I can see them doing well.
And what about the goalscoring charts? Who’ll be towards the top in League One?
There’s a few who’ll be up there. To be honest there’s a couple of lads at Southampton – David Connolly and Lee Barnard – who are top quality strikers, so I can see them doing really well. Charlie Austin (Swindon Town) really impressed me last season too, and I can see him having another very good season.
You were on the losing side as Saints faced Portsmouth in the FA Cup last season – what did you make of the atmosphere, and do you fancy getting revenge on your rivals?
The atmosphere was absolutely superb. It was unbelievable, although to be fair it was like that at St Mary’s a couple of times last season. I considered myself really lucky to be able to be part of that and to witness it. I can only imagine what the atmosphere was like when the club was in the Premier League, and that makes it an even bigger target to get the club back there. Obviously if we can get one over on Portsmouth along the way, that would be even better.
Interview: August 2010. Rickie Lambert appears in EA SPORTS’ FIFA 11, which is out October 1 on all formats. Visit www.youtube.com/easportsfootball to see the unveiling of FIFA 11’s latest signing
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