From dreamland to Kiev – Rickie Lambert faces his biggest test yet

Former lower-league striker has made such an impact with England that he will be given a start in Tuesday's crucial World Cup qualifier

Southampton striker Rickie Lambert will continue his remarkable rise from the lower leagues with a key role in England's World Cup tie away to their main rivals Ukraine on Tuesday.

Having banished any fear of joining the ranks of one-cap wonders by starting and scoring in the 4-0 victory over Moldova on Friday, he will begin a match that Roy Hodgson's team cannot afford to lose if they are to win the group and take the one automatic qualifying place for the finals next summer.

In the immediate aftermath of Friday's one-sided romp, Hodgson teasingly implied that he might have to disappoint Lambert's hopes of another start, but his hand has been forced by the injury and suspension that have ruled out Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck. Yesterday came a further blow when Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge, who has begun the season with a flurry of goals, was officially ruled out.

"The FA can confirm that Daniel Sturridge will not return to the England squad ahead of the World Cup qualifier with Ukraine on Tuesday," said the FA in a statement. "Club England medical staff have been in constant contact with their counterparts at Liverpool since he returned there on Thursday, his injury has not progressed as had been hoped and it is now clear that Sturridge will not be fit for the match in Kiev."

No replacement has been called up so Lambert it will be and, on Friday's evidence, that may be no bad thing. The striker himself is struggling to believe that the next stop on the journey that began at Moss Rose, Edgeley Park and Spotland, is the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

"Obviously, it's been a surreal few weeks, scoring on my debut and then again today," Lambert said on Friday. "It's a dream at the minute. I am hoping there is more to come. We have a game on Tuesday so that's another chance to impress. After these little moments tonight, I want more now."

There certainly will be, but to say that Lambert is starting by default would be unfair – he has done everything he possibly could so far to impress, with two appearances and a goal in each. He was England's best player on Friday night and looks very well suited to Hodgson's side.

Lambert, though, would never admit to feeling too comfortable in the set-up, and insisted that he still has to continue to justify his arrival on this new stage.

"I don't feel at home, I still have a lot to prove," said Lambert, who spoke to the gathered media with the enthusiasm of a man enjoying everything about international football. "I still have to impress every chance that I get, to try to make sure that I am a different option for the gaffer. I understand that I still have a long way to go to stay in his plans."

For all this eagerness to impress, though, there is very little nervousness about Lambert. At the age of 31 he knows his game, what he is good at – and so he plays with the freedom and fearlessness of a man taking his only roll of the dice. When out on the pitch was he afraid to miss? "No, not really. I used to but not any more. If I miss, I miss, I don't dwell on it. I am not going to worry. I will just wait for my next chance and hopefully I can put that one away."

The goals are good, of course, and why he is in the team, but the most impressive part of his game on Friday night was his build-up play. He made both Danny Welbeck goals with two perfect through passes – one long from deep, the other quick and incisive, although Lambert tried to deflect the praise away from his first assist. "Full credit to Danny, especially with the first ball, he made it look better than it actually was, he made it his own," he said.

But that intelligence, vision and passing range defines Lambert as something other than the archetypal English No 9 he is characterised as. It sets him apart from England's other recent big men up front – Andy Carroll, Kevin Davies and Emile Heskey. That sense of a break from what has come before might be the most alluring part of Lambert.

He already has a different relationship with the Wembley crowd than his team-mates, being loudly and specifically cheered through his first and second caps. "It's been surreal the way the England fans have taken me in," he said.

But it should be no surprise. Lambert, with his humble background and long journey to the top, feels counter to the sheltered "Golden Generation". He is even the same age as most of them. But while they were at World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004, he was at Stockport. And when they were at World Cup 2006, he was at Rochdale. He is less famous than his new team-mates, but somehow more familiar.

Hodgson recognised that Lambert's experiences set him apart from some of his England team-mates. "You are talking about a very mature person who has seen all that football has to offer," Hodgson said. "He has also seen the fact that if you are not in football, what life has to offer is maybe not as good comparably." Lambert is starting to enter a different environment now, but the fame and regard is nothing compared to what it might be if he makes it three goals in three in Kiev on Tuesday, firing England closer to next summer's World Cup.

"It's been a bit different for me since playing for England, the amount of attention from everyone has gone up obviously. You have got to dream and you have got to believe. I am over the moon."

Allan Clarke's four in four

Rickie Lambert became the only England player since 1976 to score in his first two internationals. Now he has in his sights Allan Clarke of Leeds United, who scored in his first four between June 1970 and May 1971.

England 1 Czechoslovakia 0 11.6.70

Never short of confidence, Clarke was happy to take a penalty on his debut as a 23-year-old in a World Cup group match in Mexico.

England 3 East Germany 1 25.11.70

Clarke ensured victory with a chip over the goalkeeper from Francis Lee's pass. The visitors had pulled back to 2-1 after goals by Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.

England 5 Malta 0 12.5.71

A game in the European Championship with one of the continent's minnows offered England's strikers abundant opportunity. Clarke converted a penalty for the third.

N Ireland 0 England 1 15.5.71

After George Best had a goal disallowed, allegedly kicking the ball out of Gordon Banks's hands, Clarke made it four in four, again from a Lee pass. His run ended in a 0-0 draw against Wales four days later.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Sport
video
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?