LESS than two years ago, on April 12, 2011, Saints lost a third division match 2-0. At Rochdale.

At the time they were by no means certain of winning automatic promotion from League 1.

Amazingly, it was their second league defeat against one of the least glamorous football clubs in the league that season.

Now, let’s turn the clock forward – not just one hour, but 24 months.

Saints fans are today still celebrating beating the European champions at St Mary’s.

And, what’s more, surely no-one can argue the 2-1 win against Chelsea, which has moved Saints up to a season’s best 12th, was a fluke result.

After all, Saints have now scalped the defending Premier League champions, one of the most famous names in world football, and the defending Champions League winners in the space of a few remarkable weeks.

OK, in between that lot they managed to lose at home to the team who were bottom of the table – but’s it that QPR loss which is becoming the exception to the rule.

Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. All recent visitors to St Mary’s. And all beaten.

When City lost, beaten manager Roberto Mancini called it the worst display he had seen in his time at the Etihad.

Nothing to do with how well Saints played, obviously.

When Liverpool lost, beaten boss Brendan Rodgers said his side had let previously high standards ‘slip a wee bit’.

Nothing to do with how well Saints played, obviously.

And now parts of the national media will have us know that Chelsea only lost because they had one eye on their FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United.

Nothing to do with how well Saints played, obviously.

Of course, Saints only beat a ‘weakened’ Chelsea side, didn’t they?


Let’s look at this ‘weakened’ team a bit more closely.

Yes, only four of the 11 who had started Chelsea’s previous Premier League game against West Ham started at St Mary’s.

Yes, there was no Ashley Cole, no Demba Ba, no Juan Mata, no Gary Cahill.

But who did Rafa Benitez bring in?

John Terry, one of the most experienced centre halves in European football.

John Obi Mikel and Ryan Bertrand, with a European Champions League winners medal to their names.

Oscar, who only cost Chelsea £25m.

And Fernando Torres, who at £50m cost more than twice as much as the whole of the Saints starting XI.

Torres, for all his critics, has actually scored more competitive goals this season than Ba.

If it was a reserve team, it was hardly a bad one, was it?

Only German striker Marko Marin, handed just his second Premier League start by the club, could be considered a top flight novice.

And he cost his club £7m!

Saints have only spent more in their entire history on one player and that man – Gaston Ramirez – was an unused sub last weekend.

Of course, it is no coincidence that Chelsea suffered an off-day at St Mary’s – just as Manchester City had, and just as Liverpool had.

Saints were good value for all three wins, emphasising – if emphasis were needed – just how far they have come from the first few months of 2012/13.

Though they remain just four points above the relegation zone, they should be looking upwards now rather than over their shoulder.

Saints have now won successive home Premier League games for the first time since March 2004 – when Paul Sturrock defeated Liverpool and Tottenham in his first St Mary’s outings.

And, with a trip to Nigel Adkins’ Reading next up, why shouldn’t Saints register three successive top flight wins for the first time since early 2003/04?

Yes indeed, they have come a long way since that night at Spotland, Rochdale.

Throughout the whole remarkable journey, Rickie Lambert has been a constant factor. He was the only man who started both the loss at Rochdale, in front of under 4,000 fans, and the win against Chelsea.

Kelvin Davis came off the bench last weekend, while Jose Fonte and Guly Do Prado – who also played at Spotland – were unused subs last weekend.

Rickie Lambert is the poster boy of Saints’ marvellous rise from third division outfit to Premier League scalp-takers.

Among Saints’ current squad, no one has spent as much time as he has in the lower divisions, times when games at Rochdale were the norm rather than an exception to be grimly tolerated.

That is why no one should be basking in the glory of Saints’ recent high profile successes more than Lambert should.

Saints (v Rochdale, April 2011) K Davis, F Richardson, R Jaidi (D Seaborne, 68), D Harding (J Forte, 42), R Dickson, J Fonte, D Hammond, G Do Prado, D Stephens (A Lallana, 73), R Lambert, L Barnard. Subs not used: D Butterfield, B Bialkowski, O Gobern, A Martin Saints (v Chelsea, March 2013) A Boruc (K Davis, 45), L Shaw, J Hooiveld, N Clyne, M Yoshida, S Davis (D Fox, 85), J Puncheon (J Ward-Prowse, 62), J Cork, M Schneiderlin , J Rodriguez, R Lambert. Subs not used: G Ramirez, J Fonte, G Do Prado, V Forren.