WOULD it be wrong to hope Rickie Lambert fails a fitness test? If you’re a Blackpool fan, then probably not.
The striker, currently struggling with a hip injury, is Southampton’s key man, lashing in 14 goals so far this term to help propel the Saints to the top of the Championship table.
Last season he netted 21 times, the year before he bagged an astonishing 36.
So this is a man who knows where the net is – and what makes it worse for Blackpool is that he always gets a little extra fire in his belly when he faces tangerine.
Lambert has good reason to. After all, it is 11 years since he was shepherded through the Bloomfield Road exit door, written off by then boss Steve McMahon as a player who wasn’t good enough to make the grade.
Remarkably, Lambert doesn’t hold any grudges about his Seasiders snub.
He says he was delighted the club made it to the Premier League last season and was gutted when they got relegated.
And he is also matter-of-fact about being released. “I can remember going in to meet McMahon,” recalled the 29-year-old. “I wasn’t getting any games, even in the reserves, so he called me in and said, ‘This isn’t working out’.
“It was obvious I wasn’t in his plans. I was on a month-to-month contract and he said, ‘I’ll let you go at the end of the month’.
“I was absolutely gutted. I loved it at Blackpool. I spent my YTS there under Nigel Worthington, and I thought that Nigel really liked me and that I was going to get a professional contract.
“But when McMahon took over, he didn’t seem to like me and I was devastated. “But I don’t hold any grudges – that’s football. Blackpool is a great club. They should never have been in League Two or even League One, and I was delighted when they got into the Premier League.”
It is perhaps no surprise that Lambert was absent last weekend, when Southampton lost at Doncaster.
He is rated 50-50 for tomorrow, but if he doesn’t make it, it’s not as if Pool can breathe a sigh of relief.
Nigel Adkins’ men – bidding for back-to-back promotions – have plenty of other attacking options and don’t seem to have suffered at all from selling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal for £12m during the summer.
Adkins usually plays a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Lambert at the tip, supported by the Guilherme Do Prado.
A skilful player with an eye for goal, the Brazilian has eight goals. If Lambert isn’t fit, Do Prado will play as the frontman, with Morgan Schneiderlin (a £1.2m signing from Strasbourg) just behind.
Adam Lalana is a threat from the wing, while former Burnley loanee Jack Cork has been earning rave reviews in the centre of midfield after completing a summer switch from Chelsea.
Lalana is 23, Cork 22, and that is one of the notable features of Southampton’s team – the majority are young lads, yet to hit their peak. Of the starting 11 at Doncaster, only keeper Kelvin Davies is in his 30s ... which bodes well should the club reach the Premier League.
Pool don’t care about that. They just have to work out a way to beat a team which has a perfect home record – played ten, won ten. A Saints sans Lambert would certainly help.