Southampton will face "one of the biggest challenges in football" to break into the Barclays Premier League top six next season, according to striker Rickie Lambert.
Target man Lambert said he approached Saints' second season back in the top flight determined to make a mockery of the struggle to infiltrate the Premier League elite.
As the south coast club close in on an eighth-place finish to trump last term's 14th, Lambert conceded commanding a seat at England's top table has proved far harder than he ever realised.
"I can remember [Michael] Laudrup saying before the season that anything above top eight is unachievable for teams like Swansea and Southampton," said Lambert, preparing for Saturday's league trip to Aston Villa.
"At the time I was a little bit like 'No, we'll prove them wrong,' but I can understand now why he said it.
"It's just the squad sizes, the depth, it's completely different and it's not unmanageable, you can do it, but I think we understand what we need to do to get there and, hopefully, we can take that step, but it's going to be hard, we understand that.
"It's definitely one of the biggest challenges in football."
Lambert said Southampton must retain coveted manager Mauricio Pochettino, in-demand stars like Luke Shaw and also add a clutch of first-rate signings to stand any chance of making that giant leap forward next term.
"Obviously, we've got to keep the best players, keep the manager and, hopefully, bring in three or four quality players," said Lambert, outlining the size of the task.
"The quicker it [Pochettino's future] gets sorted, the better."
Keen to see Southampton recruit up front, he said: "I hope so, I don't want to be the only striker really, I want them to bring in top-quality players and I think we do need a striker, so I hope so.
"This club's used to moving forward and that's what we're hoping for again, so it's going to be a big summer and, hopefully, we're going to be OK."
World Cup hopeful Lambert believes the final four league games of the season leave plenty of time for prospective England stars to state their case to coach Roy Hodgson.
Unsure whether he will make the cut, Lambert said he will have no regrets whether he jets out to Brazil or not after a strong season with Saints.
"I think these games will definitely matter," he said.
"Roy's obviously watching everyone, so it's going to be hard decisions and that's good.
"He wants hard decisions and he's going to have a few.
"I understand I might be one of those situations, so I've just got to try and do well now, and score some goals in the remaining four games.
"I always want to do better, but what I think I've done is given my all.
"I could have scored more goals, I always think that, but I've done as well as I could, I've given everything. I've got no complaints myself.
"I don't think about it too much, I would say.
"I do think about it, but it's not keeping me up at night or anything like that.
"If it's going to happen it's going to happen.
"I already understand there's a big possibility that it might not happen.
"That's not to say that I'm not desperate to go, but, like I said, if it's going to happen it's going to happen."