An emphatic 2-0 victory at St. Mary's on Saturday evening left Southampton's Mauricio Pochettino dreaming big.
Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert combined twice, as two first-half goals left Fulham down and out, as Southampton continued to assert their dominance on the fixture. Southampton's first came from a James Ward-Prowse corner, with the academy graduate, who turns nineteen next week, curling an inviting ball into the six yard box. Jay Rodriguez flicked on Ward-Prowse's corner, finding the unmarked Rickie Lambert at the back post. Although unmarked, Lambert had it tough, with a tight angle and a man on the post. The chance was duly converted, with a well-placed header into the top corner avoiding both the defender and Maarten Stekelenburg.
Southampton were forced to wait twenty minutes for the opening goal, but the truth is that they could have already been two goals to the good by that point. Lallana was first denied after seizing upon some ponderous play from Philippe Senderos, before Rickie Lambert went close for the hosts.
Just twenty minutes after the opener, the Saints had doubled up. This time Adam Lallana drifted from the left-flank, before chipping a curling cross onto the head of Rickie Lambert. Lambert unselfishly sacrificed the attempt by nodding a lofted header into the path of Jay Rodriguez, who tapped home before colliding with the post.
Lambert almost extended the deficit to three, but Fulham had the woodwork to thank, as Lambert's low attempt thundered back off of the post.
Martin Jol's Fulham charges offered little inspiration to their travelling support, although Southampton were on hand to deny them the right to play from the whistle. Dimitar Berbatov's frustration was evident, with the Bulgarian thumping the floor and berating the referee on more than one opportunity. The lethargic midfield of Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker were pressured and out-muscled by the Saints duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, who was in imperious form.
Whilst we'd like to provide fair analysis of the highlights of both sides' play, it's a pretty impossible task. Fulham failed to muster a single shot on target throughout the game, whilst Southampton racked up an impressive twenty shots as the name of Mauricio Pochettino rung out from the home support.
The quick movement and pressing of the Saints' English front line, in the shape of Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse forced countless errors and gave way to several periods of serene and effortless attacking moves.
Sascha Riether was withdrawn in the interval, with Aaron Hughes taking his place. Hughes did little to encourage the Cottagers, who continued to drop deep and attempt to keep the Saints at arms length. Perhaps unexpectedly, both Pochettino and the Southampton side appeared content to keep possession and wait for Fulham to venture out of their own half. A possession statistic of 66% only serves to further re-enforce the sheer dominance of Pochettino's Southampton.
The next question - how much longer can it last? Nobody knows, but Pochettino is setting his side no limits. In his pre-match programme notes, Pochettino was making his ambition clear to all in attendance.
"People keep asking me what we can achieve, and I say the sky is the limit for us."
Southampton travel to Stoke City next Saturday, before returning to St. Mary's to face Steve Bruce's Hull City outfit. December sees clashes with Chelsea and Arsenal, when you would imagine we will see just how far Pochettino's Saints can continue to march on.
image: © mischatuffield