It may not have been exactly El Classico, the other televised game yesterday evening, but Saints fans still went home dreaming of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Southampton’s victory over Fulham sent them into third place in the Premier League and although they are likely to be overtaken today, there is surely never a bad time to go into a Champions League position.
Southampton's manager, Mauricio Pochettino, said in his programme notes that “the Sky is the limit” for his team, and though he also warned that their League position had created a level of expectation, they dealt with it pretty comfortably against a Fulham side that was not permitted to show any of the flair they displayed in winning 4-1 at Crystal Palace on Monday and was restricted to a lone shot.
A third successive home victory after draws against Sunderland and West Ham gives Southampton 18 points from nine games, a better start than in 1983-84, when Lawrie McMenemy's team were runners-up in the old First Division, the club's best League finish.
“Statistics are evil,” Pochettino smiled, preferring to concentrate on his team's all-round display. “It's about the performance not just the result and the way we played was fantastic, extraordinary,” he said. “The League position is not important at the moment. The most important thing is that we keep on performing and learning.”
Even without their injured £15 million record signing Dani Osvaldo, Southampton dominated possession, while Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, who scored the goals and each provided an assist for the other, did virtually as they pleased. “Rickie showed today how good he is and I hope he can keep on putting in performances that can take him to [the World Cup in] Brazil,” Pochettino said.
Lambert returned to the Southampton line-up after starting last weekend's 1‑1 draw at Old Trafford on the bench, and scored with an unchallenged header after 20 minutes when Rodriguez nodded on James Ward-Prowse's corner from the right. A goal had been coming after Southampton's pressing had forced an early error from Philippe Senderos, and Fernando Amorebieta had to clear Morgan Schneiderlin's shot off the line.
And Saints almost doubled their lead within seconds. Rodriguez collected the ball from Luke Shaw on the halfway line but underhit his shot. Lambert went close twice more, first taking a pass on the left from Schneiderlin and hitting the post then forcing Maarten Stekelenburg into a diving save with a header.
The inevitable second Southampton goal arrived in the 43rd minute. Adam Lallana crossed from the left, Lambert lost Amorebieta to head the ball back across goal, and Rodriguez escaped the marking of Senderos to nod in.
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, shored up his defence but his team never looked like getting back into the game. “I thought it could be a hammering,” he said. “In the second half we had to repair the damage.” Can Saints stay the course? “Why not? If you spend a lot of money you're supposed to have good players.”
Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Ward-Prowse (Cork, 90); Wanyama, Schneiderlin; Lallana, Lambert, Rodriguez (Do Prado, 78).
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Stekelenburg; Riether (Hughes, h‑t), Senderos, Amorebieta, Richardson; Ruiz (Kacaniklic, 81), Sidwell, Parker, Kasami; Berbatov; Bent (Rodallega, 75).
Referee: A Marriner
Man of the match: Rodriguez (Southampton)
Match rating: 7/10
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