‘Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.’
Wise words indeed from Homer Simpson, and particularly relevant to West Bromwich Albion’s newest signing, Rickie Lambert. 119 players scored more goals in the Premier League last season than the England international. That said, he’d scored a brace for the Baggies within three hours of putting pen to paper on a two-year deal. Make of those facts what you will.
The big question is which Rickie Lambert is going to turn up at the Hawthorns, and whether Tony Pulis can bring out the best out of the ageing frontman. Making his mark at Southampton with 117 goals in 235 appearances, guiding the Saints to back-to-back promotions, Lambert reached double figures for both goals and assists in the Premier League in 2013-14. However, he failed to rediscover his form from the Saints at boyhood club Liverpool after a dream move the following summer, making only twelve starts in all competitions, seven in the Premier League, scoring a total of three goals. Not a glowing record for a striker. Nevertheless, his new gaffer doesn’t seem too bothered, backing the £3m man to make an impact at the Albion.
“Rickie is a good, strong, solid player who is a great character, good in the dressing room and good on the pitch. We are very pleased to have him on board. He’s a player of great pedigree and we look forward to integrating him into our squad.”
I’ll nail my colours to the mast at this point. I am an Albion fan. Despite my best efforts, I’m far from impartial, and I fully expect Lambert to have a great season.
14 league goals for Saido Berahino last season made him, by some margin, the Baggies’ top scorer. Record signing Brown Ideye was lagging behind on 4 (that’s a cost of £2.5m per goal), with Craig Gardner and Victor Anichebe both finishing on 3. Without being too patronising, it’s hard for fans of top-half sides to realise what a player having a ‘great season’ means to a club like West Brom. If Lambert pops up with 7 league goals and a handful of assists, it’s a pretty solid return for the club. It might just keep you in the league. Those stats in a Liverpool shirt probably wouldn’t attract much attention, they may even draw a degree of criticism. It’s all relative.
Admittedly, last night’s 4-0 battering of Bristol Rovers was only a friendly, but Lambert’s two goals served to give fans an insight into the kind of threat he will provide next season. His first was an ambitious shot from distance (let’s not mention the deflection), the second a smart finish in the box following a cross from fellow new-boy James McClean. Sure, Lambert’s goals will help take the pressure off Berahino, but it’s also his physical presence and style of play that make him such a shrewd acquisition for a Tony Pulis side. With the Baggies adding wide-men McClean and McManaman to their ranks since January, and still looking to finalise a deal for Wolves winger Bakary Sako before the start of the season, having an aerially strong, disciplined centre forward leading the line will stand them in good stead.
What’s more, Rickie’s ability to hold up the ball will be the perfect foil for Berahino. The latter loves to sit on the shoulder of the last defender and use his pace to get in behind. With Lambert the main target man, Saido should be able to do this a lot more in the coming season (as long as he doesn’t jump ship to Spurs in the next month). Lambert’s assist record at Southampton, specifically his link-up play with Jay Rodriguez, shows that he’s capable of creating chances for teammates wherever he receives the ball, be it to feet or in the air.
At 33, Lambert may not be one for the future for the Baggies, but, for the first time in a while, he represents a round peg in a round hole. Roll on next weekend.