RICKIE Lambert is closing in quickly on a major personal milestone and joining an exclusive club in the process.
The Saints talisman is just four goals away from reaching 200 career strikes in domestic football.
He took his tally to 196 – of which 80 have been scored for Saints in just over two and a half years – with the third hat-trick of his debut Championship season at Watford last weekend.
And Lambert’s remarkable scoring exploits of recent years mean he has many years left on his side to net many more.
Only four players currently operating in the Football League have scored 200 career goals in English football – and all of them are older than Lambert.
Ex-Saints ace Kevin Phillips, 38, is well out in front – the former England striker having netted 272 league and cup goals in his career.
Still going strong at Blackpool, Phillips will no doubt be a key man to watch when Lambert returns to his first club Blackpool for a mouthwatering promotion clash at the end of this month.
Bristol Rovers striker Scott McGleish has 248 career goals while Jamie Cureton, who yesterday rejoined Exeter City on loan from Leyton Orient, has 225.
They are also much older than Lambert – McGleish is 38 and Cureton two years younger.
The fourth player with 200 domestic goals to his name is Notts County’s 33-year-old Lee Hughes, who is on 201.
Two Premiership players are within striking distance of emulating those feats.
Frank Lampard has 195 career league and cup goals – a phenomenal record for a midfielder, even one that takes penalties.
Michael Owen, now only a bit-part player at Manchester United, has 191 goals. Both those players have over 200 goals if European club goals are taken into account.
Lambert, meanwhile, only scored 76 goals during his first nine seasons as a professional in the lower divisions with Blackpool, Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers.
Sensationally, in the last three and a half seasons he has belted 120 goals!
He netted 29 goals for Bristol Rovers in 2008/09, followed by 36 for Saints and one for Rovers the following campaign.
As revealed in yesterday’s Daily Echo, Lambert is aiming to become the first Saints striker since Mick Channon back in the mid 1970s to score 20 league goals for Saints in three successive seasons.
Last weekend’s treble at Vicarage Road took him to 23 goals for the season – two more than he scored in the whole of 2010/11 – and 19 in the Championship.