Listening up close, it is possible to detect in Rickie Lambert's voice the difficult and occasionally demoralising nature of the journey he took to become a Premier League footballer. There remains the strong scouse accent of a man who grew up in Litherland, a few miles north of Anfield, and dreamt of one day scoring in front of the Kop, but it has become blended with more southern tones, recognition of how having initially struggled to make it up north the forward managed to establish himself at Bristol Rovers and, now, Southampton.
It has been some rise. Lambert was released by Blackpool at 19 and spent four months putting lids on jars at a beetroot factory to earn a living. Then came a period at Macclesfield when he played for free before his career began slowly to take shape, with spells at Stockport and Rochdale preceding his move to Bristol in 2006. Three successful years there – Lambert scored 59 goals in 139 starts for Rovers – led to his £1m move to St Mary's in August 2009 and, four years later, having passed his 30th birthday, to the Premier League.
Having come so far it is little wonder, then, that Lambert has no intention of turning back now. That is the prospect facing him, however, following Southampton's poor start to the season – they are 19th having collected only five points from 11 games. On Saturday Saints face the only side below them in the table, Queens Park Rangers, and for Lambert the match is as important as it has been billed. Personal as well as collective futures are at stake.
"We know it is a big game, we know the circumstances of both teams, where we lie and how big three points will be for either side," he says. "If one team loses on Saturday they're not automatically down, but obviously it will be important to not lose the game, so we do understand that as well.
"[Getting to the Premier League] has been a long time coming and this might be my only season here. But I don't want to play in any other league, even the Championship, so I'll be doing everything I can to make sure I'm in this league next season. My job is to score goals and that is what I will be trying to do on Saturday."
Lambert certainly knows where the back of the net is – he scored 27 goals for Southampton last season as they finished second in the Championship, a haul that led to him being voted the Football League's player of the year and linked with a possible call-up to the England squad. That never came but, unperturbed, Lambert quickly took to the task of establishing himself as a top-flight striker, scoring in Southampton's opening fixture of this season, the 3-2 defeat at Manchester City, and then three more times in his next four games, including twice in the south coast side's only victory so far, the 4-1 triumph over Aston Villa.
Six games have since passed, however, in which Lambert has failed to score, a period that has, to the surprise and concern of Southampton supporters, also seen the strength of his relationship with manager Nigel Adkins called into question. Lambert was left out of the team that started against West Ham on 20 October having been criticised by Adkins after the 2-2 draw with Fulham, when the striker was replaced after 67 minutes by the midfielder Guilherme do Prado.
Adkins and Lambert have both insisted that there are no problems between them, with the player seeing victory at Loftus Road on Saturday as a chance to relieve the pressure on the man who led Southampton to the Premier League on the back of two consecutive promotions.
"Losing games and losing points hurts the players and that's what we want to rectify, and we know that by rectifying that the media's shouts about the gaffer will go away," Lambert says. "When the gaffer took over [in September 2010] we were in the relegation zone [in League One]. It took a while for us players to understand what he wanted to do and until then we weren't doing well. But in the end we understood how he wanted to play and we started to get the results slowly but surely and we rose through the leagues. We're still playing some fantastic attacking football and I'm fully confident we will create chances on Saturday, and for me it's about putting them away."
By Lambert's own admission, however, Southampton have displayed naivety on their return to the top flight after a seven-year absence. Their open style of play has won plaudits but also seen them fail to keep a single clean sheet and concede 29 goals in total, giving them the worst defence in the division.
"It's been a surprise just how ruthless this division is and how much we get punished every time we make a mistake," Lambert concedes. "It's the touch, the pace, it's how calm they are on the ball when you're trying to put them under pressure. It's a lot of things.
"We're used to winning at Southampton and all of a sudden we've hit a bad patch and are in danger of falling behind. So we all know how important the next few games are; it's important we get the points we need. One clean sheet, one good display, one win can turn it back around. And that's what we're capable of, putting a few results together. It's just about getting that first one."
Everyone associated with Southampton will be hoping that process begins in west London on Saturday and for Lambert, in particular, the burning desire is to add to his four Premier League goals. "In every game I've played this season I've believed I would score," Lambert insists. "I feel confident that I can play and score at this level."