A special week in the life of Rickie Lambert got even better yesterday afternoon. Three days after heading the winning goal against Scotland on his England debut, he was at it again at the Hawthorns, snatching victory for Southampton from a match that had appeared destined to end in stalemate.
Where he had needed just two minutes and 45 seconds to score after taking the Wembley pitch on Wednesday, he had to wait until the very last to make the difference yesterday, showing confidence and ice-cool composure to drill a penalty into the bottom right-hand corner of the Albion net, giving Ben Foster no chance even though the goalkeeper had dived the right way.
Lambert had had only one-half chance during the preceding 89 minutes but his manager, Mauricio Pocchettini, said he had no doubt that the Liverpudlian, who hit 15 goals in his first top-flight campaign last term, would add another. “It’s a perfect moment for him,” he added. “He’s enjoyed a brilliant few days, but he deserves everything he’s getting because he’s a great person and a great footballer.”
Whether it should have been a penalty was open to question. Youssuf Mulumbu had just been announced as the sponsors’ man of the match when he stuck out a leg to challenge Luke Shaw as the full-back burst into the Albion box. The contact appeared minimal but Shaw went down and referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot. “I thought it was very soft. I have seen it again on a number of occasions and am still looking for the contact,” said an unhappy Steve Clarke, the Albion manager.
For Southampton, it was their first victory at the Hawthorns since 1984 and it suggested they are well equipped to avoid last season’s struggles. Then they won just one of their first 11 league matches but the fixture computer has given them a kinder start and there were promising signs from their two new signings, the £12.5m Victor Wanyama, who helped them establish early control in the midfield, and Dejan Lovren, the Croatian international centre-back signed for £8.5m from Lyon. On this showing – and one penalty-box challenge on Nicolas Anelka was outstanding – he will provide solidity to a defence that leaked goals last season. “We are a much more competitive team now,” said Pocchettino.
Perhaps their best piece of business this summer, though, might have been persuading left-back Luke Shaw to sign a new five-year contract. In the first half he ghosted past James Morrison before firing in a shot that Gareth McAuley deflected behind, and later drew a full-length stop from Foster with a 20-yard strike.
Shaw was one of three English 18-year-olds in the visitors’ lineup alongside James Ward-Prowse and debutant Calum Chambers and it was the latter’s cross that led to Adam Lallana scoring a disallowed goal just after the half-hour. Lambert nodded the ball back across goal for Lallana to score but with Jay Rodriguez in an offside position, the goal did not stand.
Rodriguez then lashed a shot against the crossbar – albeit after Lallana’s foul on Gareth McAuley – but Albion improved in the second half. Prior to that their only goal threat had been a Graham Dorrans free-kick that brushed the top of the net but now Shane Long and Morrison might both have scored from low balls into the box.
Albion’s previous Premier League fixture had been the incredible 5-5 goal-fest with Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell match, when Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick. The Belgian will be missed this season. His replacement, the 34-year-old Nicolas Anelka, may have scored seven goals in as many pre-season games but he cut a peripheral figure on his sixth club debut in English football.
Albion have now won just one of their last 10 league fixtures and not until injury time did Artur Boruc have a serious save to make when clawing away Billy Jones’ header. By then, though, a certain England centre-forward had already had his say.