The 40,000 strong population of Kirkby in the north-west of England had reason to be proud on Wednesday night. The town, which lies just six miles from the football-mad metropolis of Liverpool, has produced many fine footballers but in the 70th minute of England's 3-2 win over Scotland, two of its famous sons combined for a goal which will live long in the locals' memory.
Everton defender Leighton Baines swung in a corner from the left and boyhood Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert shrugged off his marker and rose highest before heading the ball past Allan McGregor. It was a goal which was made in Kirkby.
“Funnily enough Phil Jagielka said that to me after the game,” he told FIFA.com. "To be fair it was a superb ball from [Leighton] Bainesy and I thanked him afterwards. He gave me a big hug after I scored and said ‘I’m made up (delighted) for you.’ He knew how much it meant to me.
“I always believed that I would score if given the chance – and I took it. I think everyone from Kirkby will be happy with that. I hope so. I’m proud to be from there – and I know Bainesy is too.”
Understandably, Lambert was more than happy to reflect on a moment he had been waiting for all his life as he came off the bench to mark his international debut with the winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Scotland.
With an enthralling contest locked at 2-2, the Southampton striker needed just four minutes to make a telling impact, heading home a Baines corner. It capped a wonderful few days for Lambert, whose call into Roy Hodgson's squad last week came on the same day his wife gave birth to their third child.
“It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been hard for me to remain calm and not let it affect me,” he smiled. I’ve tried to keep my cool as best I can, but deep down, it’s meant so much to me. I was trying to play it cool as if it wasn't bothering me but deep down I wanted to scream. It was brilliant. The main thing I wanted to do was play well and impress and hopefully I’ve done that.
“I can’t praise the other lads in the squad enough. From the second I walked in, they’ve been great. I had a lot of respect for them before I came into the squad and that’s grown even further. I have to say a big thank you to the boys.
“I have to say I feel that if I hadn’t have scored, someone else would have done. I thought we were on top and did well to get back into the game twice. A lot of pressure was on the boys – and to be fair I’ve never seen that kind of pressure before in a friendly - but they stuck at it and they came back.
“I’ve had a taste of England now and I want more, so I’m now going to be doing my best to do well for Southampton and hopefully that will give me another chance. If this proves to be my only call-up, then I couldn’t have wished for it to go any better. Hopefully it won’t be. I just don’t want to come back down to earth. I’m going to take this feeling into the start of the Premier League season on Saturday.”
It is not only the start of the Premier League season which the 31-year-old is targeting. After whetting his international appetite, the target-man now has his sights set on a place in the Three Lions squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
“I’ve always dreamed about going to a major tournament – and that’s what I’ll be trying to achieve at the end of this season,” said Lambert. “I’ll be trying to get into the squad to help them qualify and if we do – then I’ll hope to be in Brazil. In the past I’ve watched World Cups and major tournaments with family and friends where I’m from in Liverpool, but it would be great to have them out there next year.”
In his post-match press-conference, England manager Roy Hodgson claimed that Lambert will be in his thinking for the upcoming Brazil 2014 qualifiers, but warned that he faces stiff competition from the likes of Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge who are returning from injury.
"He's been so enthusiastic,” he said. “He's been like a young boy with a new toy ever since he joined us. We believe in him and, funnily enough, when he came on the first thing [England assistant coach] Gary Neville said to me was 'he's going to get us a goal'. He almost got us three - he certainly got us a very good one and was very close to two others.
"I'm delighted for him. He's a man who's worked very, very hard for this chance and done it the hard way, and now he's crowned his debut with a goal. He's technically a very good player and has great composure in front of goal, as we saw today.
“Tonight we didn’t play our best, especially defensively, but it was a positive performance. We got players forwards, we took risks; we created more opportunities than we’ve done in previous matches. When you have to take a game to an opponent, as we had to, there’s always a chance of them catching you on the counter attack. But we gained the victory – and the lessons learned tonight will help us in the future, particularly with the qualifiers coming up.”