Ralph Hasenhuttl (Getty Images)
Ralph Hasenhuttl admitted Southampton’s “amazing” rise to the top of the Premier League was “a little scary” after they earned pole position for the first time since 1988 with a 2-0 win against Newcastle on Friday.
Goals from Che Adams and Stuart Armstrong ensured Southampton finished the day at the summit of the English top-flight table for the first time since Chris Nicholl’s team 32 years ago.
It is Hasenhuttl in charge of the Saints now and the Austrian has masterminded a remarkable revival on the south-coast.
Just over a year after they were humiliated in a 9-0 thrashing by Leicester at St Mary’s, Southampton have been transformed under his leadership.
Sustaining their place at the top is likely to prove a step too far, yet there is no reason why they shouldn’t dream of European qualification and even a surprise bid to finish in the top four.
“It’s amazing what my team does in this moment. Congratulations to everybody. Our fans will love it and they’ll make a picture of the table,” Hasenhuttl said.
“Everybody was on the highest level. It is a little scary what we are doing at the moment to be honest, but not surprising when I see what we are working on.”
Hasenhuttl recently claimed he wanted his team of “pirates” to stay out of the spotlight, but their swashbuckling form will make that impossible.
“I just told the guys that we invested so much in this time together. We made so many big steps forward. We are now a strong side,” Hasenhuttl said.
“We should stay hungry and we should feel anything is possible with this team.”
Southampton, winners in five of their last six games, would be replaced at the top by Everton if they beat Manchester United on Saturday.
If Everton slip up, then second placed Liverpool, currently behind Southampton on goal difference, Leicester and Tottenham all have the chance to move into the first place by Sunday night.
Southampton’s leading scorer Danny Ings is sidelined for several weeks with a knee injury suffered in last weekend’s win at Aston Villa.
But Adams is emerging as a fine finisher in his own right and he put Southampton ahead in the seventh minute.
Theo Walcott’s pressing was the key as he pounced on Miguel Almiron’s ludicrous decision to try a flashy turn under pressure inside his own penalty area.
Having stolen possession from Almiron, Walcott quickly flicked a cross to Adams, who guided an excellent volley past Karl Darlow for his third goal in his last four games.
Chasing hard and attacking with purpose, Walcott was completely transformed from the anonymous figure he had become at Everton before rejoining Southampton earlier this season.
Teed up by Moussa Djenepo’s nimble flick, Walcott nearly doubled Southampton’s lead just before half-time with curler from the edge of the area that flashed just wide.
Southampton kept up their relentless pressure after the break and Oriol Romeu’s 20-yard blast was tipped onto the bar by Darlow.
Armstrong wrapped up the points in the 82nd minute when he stole possession from Sean Longstaff and cleverly worked space for a low shot from the edge of the area that gave Darlow no chance.
Burnley remain without a victory this season after they were held to a 0-0 draw at Brighton.
The Clarets have made their worst ever start to a season and are without a victory in eight games dating back to last term.
Sean Dyche’s side moved off the bottom of the table after their second point from seven games.
“There were moments where we had a good foothold and we defended well,” Dyche said.
“We’re never a million miles away. We need to get on the right side of margins. It needs to happen quickly.”
Brighton have won just one of their eight league matches this term and sit three points above the relegation zone.