Southampton rewrote the history books by recording a victory that made sure of their best ever start to a top-flight season.
A 2-0 win over Fulham moved Saints onto 18 points from their opening nine league fixtures which surpassed the total of 17 points at the same stage in the 1983/84 season in which the team finished runners-up in the elite division.
They made sure of their third consecutive league win at St Mary’s by doing their damage in the opening 45 minutes. A total of 14 shots to Fulham’s zero in that half showed the scale of Saints’ dominance, who were more than good value for their two goal lead.
Rickie Lambert opened the scoring on 21 minutes with his third strike of the season. The frontman headed in from Jay Rodriguez’s flick to James Ward-Prowse’s corner at the far post to get the ball rolling for the hosts.
Lambert returned the favour two minutes before half-time by heading the ball back across goal for Rodriguez to apply a close range header, which the visitors never recovered from.
Saints moved up to third by making it a sixth league game unbeaten with just three goals conceded in nine games, whilst they also remain without defeat on home soil in the current campaign.
Fulham, meanwhile remain without a win in Southampton since 1935.
Mauricio Pochettino made two enforced changes to his team with both Dani Osvaldo and Steven Davis picking up injuries during the week. James Ward-Prowse and Rickie Lambert returned to the starting line-up, whilst Tadanari Lee and Gaston Ramirez were each restored to the matchday squad.
Fulham were without regular skipper Brede Hangeland at the back, so Fernando Amorebieta deputised next to Philippe Senderos. Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov captained the visitors.
Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert got the game underway with the hosts attacking the Northam stand on a mild and calm setting inside St Mary’s for the evening contest.
Saints made a confident start to the game with Lambert immediately checking back before turning the ball forward towards the Fulham penalty area to try launch a quick break against on Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal.
It was a typically bright opening from Southampton with Nathaniel Clyne and James Ward-Prowse forming a combination on the right flank to good effect for the early deliveries from the wing.
The first chance arrived in the fifth minute when Lallana’s pressure on Fulham’s play out from the back told on Philippe Senderos who was robbed by the skipper who then saw his cross pushed out by Stekelenburg. The ball fell invitingly for Schneiderlin to shoot, but Fernando Amorebieta blocked the strike before the visitors clamoured to clear under further pressure from Victor Wanyama.
On 7 another cross, this time from Clyne fell invitingly to Lambert, who swivelled to beat Senderos but his shot was relatively comfortable for Stekelenburg to handle.
The build up to that chance was all about Lallana again as his persistence caused the visitors all sorts of problems in their own half of the pitch.
Saints continued to press with a calm assurance from the back led by Fonte, Lovren and Wanyama in the middle, but it was on the flanks where the attacking prowess shone through with Luke Shaw and Clyne each unafraid to push forward and supplement the attacking threat of the hosts.
On the back of another swift break in the 17th minute, Wanyama struck an ambitious from range after collecting a pass from Ward-Prowse from 30 yards out, but the effort was never seriously troubling Stekelenburg who watched it go wide of the left post.
The hosts won their first corner on the right in the 20th minute when a Ward-Prowse cross was intercepted. The youngster sprinted over to take the set piece himself, and the well measured delivery was flicked on by Jay Rodriguez to the far post where Rickie LAMBERT was waiting to gleefully nod it back into the net from six yards out.
Moments later, Saints almost doubled their tally when a terrific burst through from Rodriguez saw him take the ball from midway inside Fulham’s half into the area where he forced a low save from Stekelenburg, who got a vital touch on the shot to push it around the post.
From the resulting corner, the St Mary’s faithful tried to help suck the ball into the net as another Ward-Prowse corner caused uncertainty for the visitors. Fulham managed to clear their lines as far as Schneiderlin, who was just unable to turn the ball back on target.
As the contest approached the half hour mark, Saints pushed on again as they ran the visitors ragged by consistently stretching the play which Fulham seemed unable to cope with.
Artur Boruc remained largely untroubled, but offered a reminder of his presence when he came to collect a cross Pajtim Kasami that not a single white shirt dared jump for.
Back at the other end, Rodriguez and Lallana’s combined effectively again through the middle, before the latter delivered a teasing cross from the left that the former headed wide from ten yards out.
In the 36th minute, Schneiderlin teed up Lambert on the edge of the area from the left side. The striker’s daisy-cutter from range cannoned back off the right post with Stekelenburg beaten.
Saints bravely defended a Fulham corner, but soon went back on the offensive. Another impeccable delivery from Ward-Prowse into the area was just out of Lambert’s reach, but the ball fell kindly to Shaw, whose deflected strike towards goal earned the hosts a corner.
Into the last five minutes of the half, and Saints were showing signs that they weren’t content to sit on a one goal lead, and sure enough, the pressure form the hosts drew a deserved second goal before the half-time break.
Lallana cross from the left side to the right post where Lambert’s header back across goal was met by the on-rushing RODRIGUEZ who buried a close range header with two minutes remaining on the watch in the opening half.
One further minute of stoppage time saw Saints assert their dominance with a controlled spell of possession as they marched off the field with a thoroughly deserved two goal advantage.
HALF-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 2-0 FULHAM
Fulham made one change at the interval, bringing on defender Aaron Hughes Sascha Riether with the no.18 slotting in at right back for the visitors.
Saints immediately targeted that side with Shaw making a darting run down the touchline to cross for Lambert, but the striker rushed his shot as he placed the ball wide of Stekelenburg’s post.
The controlling nature of Saints’ possession game saw the hosts creating opportunities from across the final third as the red shirts glided in and out of each other’s positions with ease.
On the hour, another corner from Ward-Prowse almost drew Stekelenburg into action once more with Lovren’s header flying narrowly wide of the Fulham goal.
The cries of ‘olé’ began to ring around St Mary’s as the hosts comfortably stroked the ball around past the flailing white shirts whose frustration was growing further as they struggled to get a touch on in either half of the pitch.
The supreme football played by the hosts almost culminated in a wonder goal on 69 minutes. A pinpoint cross from Ward-Prowse on the right fell invitingly in mid-air for Rodriguez whose stunning volleyed effort would have applied the gloss on a terrific second half from Saints, but unfortunately the strike was just off-target.
Saints had to be careful of not overplaying, as Fulham threatened from set-pieces in the final quarter of action, a tactic which was endorsed by the substitution of Bent with Hugo Rodallega coming on in his place with fifteen minutes remaining.
Saints brought Guly do Prado on in place of second goal scorer Rodriguez with 13 to play, prior to Fulham’s final change in the 80th minute as Alex Kacaniklic replaced the largely ineffective, Bryan Ruiz.
Steve Sidwell looked to try and conjure up a spectacular reply for the visitors by teeing himself up from a corner to volley wide, as he had visions of replicating his goal against Crystal Palace earlier in the week.
But it was all about Saints right up until the closing stages. Lallana went close to adding a third in the 90th minute when his toe-poked effort towards goal took a heavy deflection off Aaron Hughes, but looped just over the crossbar.
Jack Cork was introduced as a late substitution as two minutes of stoppage time went up. Cork replaced Ward-Prowse, who received a standing ovation from the home supporters as he made his way to the dug-outs.
The final two minutes saw Lallana dig deep for another late goal by dinking the ball over Stekelenburg from the byline, but his effort dropped wide of the mark as the final whistle was blown.
FULL-TIME: SOUTHAMPTON 2-0 FULHAM
Southampton team: Artur Boruc, Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama, Adam Lallana (c), James Ward-Prowse (Jack Cork 90), Jay Rodriguez (Guly do Prado 77), Rickie Lambert
Unused substitutes: Kelvin Davis, Gaston Ramirez, Tadanari Lee, Calum Chambers, Jos Hooiveld
Goals: Lambert, 21; Rodriguez, 43
Fulham team: Maarten Stekelenburg, Sascha Riether (Aaron Hughes 46), Philippe Senderos, Fernando Amorebieta, Kieran Richardson, Pajtim Kasami, Steve Sidwell, Scott Parker, Bryan Ruiz (Alex Kacaniklic 80), Dimitar Berbatov (c), Darren Bent (Hugo Rodallega 75)
Unused substitutes: David Stockdale, Giorgos Karagounis, Damien Duff, Zverotic
Referee: Andre Marriner