RICKIE Lambert's main rival for an England World Cup finals squad place is on the verge of playing his first game of the season.
West Ham could have striker Andy Carroll back in their squad within the next two games, manager Sam Allardyce today confirmed.
The club-record signing has yet to feature this season after taking longer than first anticipated to heal from a problematic foot injury but the 25-year-old could be set to come back and help the Hammers' battle against Premier League relegation.
Allardyce - who has continually been linked with a move for Saints striker Rickie Lambert - has struggled with injuries throughout his squad this campaign and had just 14 first-team players fit for the FA Cup third round tie at Nottingham Forest, which the Sky Bet Championship side won 5-0.
Tomorrow's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City will come too soon for the former Liverpool forward, who scored seven goals during a loan spell at Upton Park last season, but the trip to Cardiff on Saturday could see Carroll return to the fold.
"Andy is training today," Allardyce said.
"Hopefully we'll see him on the bench in the next week or so."
Without Carroll, West Ham have scored just 19 times in their opening 20 Premier League fixtures and sit 19th in the table having won one of their last 13 league outings.
Even with his £15million man on the mend, Allardyce is likely to bring in at least one other forward during the transfer window with Monaco striker Lacina Traore a reported target.
Current strikers Modibo Maiga and Carlton Cole have just just four league goals between them so far so a return for Carroll would be more than welcome for Allardyce as he looks to keep the Hammers in the top flight.