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The Saints' challenge for Champions League qualification this season has fallen away but the England striker expects them to continue their push for the elite next year

A top-four finish may have got away from Southampton this season but Rickie Lambert insists that it remains a long-term target.

After starting the Premier League campaign among the group jostling for European qualification, Mauricio Pochettino's men have slipped into mid-table and currently sit 18 points below fourth-placed Arsenal.

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Lambert, though, feels that 2013-14 has been a good learning curve for everyone at the club and is confident that they will become more consistent next term.

"We aimed for fourth this season and people laughed at us - but they didn't laugh at us straight away, when we were second, they waited until we dropped off a bit," the striker told the club's official website.

"Our desire is to get into the top four and that's the way the club has been run in the past four years.

"That's the vision the players have and it's the one that the club has so, for me, it's what the players still want going forward and it's what we're expecting, to be honest."

Southampton host Newcastle, who are one point above them in the table, on Saturday and Lambert believes that finishing above Alan Pardew's men at the end of the season is the minimum aim.

He declared: "We definitely believe that we can finish above teams like Newcastle. It's up to us to push on."

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