SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom (AFP) - Southampton have made their best ever start to a top-flight season after climbing into third place in the Premier League as Rickie Lambert inspired a 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday.
Mauricio Pochettino's side have been the surprise package of the early weeks of the season and their impressive form shows no signs of slipping after a clinical display at St Mary's.
England forward Lambert opened the scoring in the 20th minute and his strike-partner Jay Rodriguez netted the second just before half-time to seal Southampton's fifth win in nine league games and take them above Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham ahead of Sunday's fixtures.
Their current form is an all-time high, surpassing even a strong start in 1983-84 when they eventually finished as runners-up to Liverpool.
"That is unbelievable," Rodriguez said when told his team were now third.
"We have got the belief, we just need to push on. I'm well chuffed.
"There is no limit to what we can we achieve. We just need to keep the belief." Rodriguez emphasised the team's hard work and spirit as the main reasons behind their success.
"I don't think it is a secret really. We are a hard-pressing team, we work hard and we are honest," he said.
"The manager has got us working with belief. Training is extremely hard, the lads have really taken to it and it is showing on the pitch." The Saints' success has been built on a rock-solid defensive foundation and their sixth league clean-sheet of the season ensured there was no way back for Fulham, who were unable to build on Monday's 4-1 win at Crystal Palace.
It is easy to forget that only three years ago Southampton were plying their trade in the third tier, especially when Saints can win so easily without their club record signing.
Italy international Dani Osvaldo joined from Roma for nearly £15 million (S$29.9 million), but was unable to feature against Fulham due to a minor nerve issue.
His absence saw Lambert return to the starting line-up as one of two changes from the side that held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw last weekend.
Adam Lallana scored the equaliser at Old Trafford and was almost involved in another goal after five minutes on the south coast.
The Saints captain dispossessed dawdling Philippe Senderos and went on to test Maarten Stekelenburg, whose parry would have been slotted home by Morgan Schneiderlin were it not for Fernando Amorebieta's clearance off the line.
Victor Wanyama flashed a left-footed 30-yard strike just wide as Pochettino's side continued to threaten an opener that finally arrived in the 20th minute.
James Ward-Prowse's corner from the right was flicked on by Rodriguez, with Lambert rising at the far post to powerfully head home.
Fulham had Stekelenburg to thank for stopping Southampton doubling their advantage just two minutes later.
Epitomising the confidence coursing through the hosts' veins, Rodriguez surged forward, put the ball through Senderos' legs, only to see his strike tipped around the post by the Dutch international.
Rodriguez nodded wide as Martin Jol's side continued to struggle, with Lambert hitting the post with a right-footed drive as Saints continued in the ascendancy.
Saints would not be denied for long though and they went two goals up in the 42nd minute.
Another deep cross, this time from Lallana, found Lambert, whose looping header back across the goal was nodded home by Rodriguez.
With Fulham unable to breach that obdurate Southampton defence, a comeback was never on the cards and Rodriguez came closest to another goal with a spectacular overhead kick in the second half.