Prolific Austin emerges as QPR’s complete striker
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
It is often said that a striker can either be a great goalscorer or a scorer of great goals, but rarely both. In Charlie Austin, QPR have a player who breaks the mould.
Austin took his total for the season to 14 with his match-winning brace against Huddersfield Town on Saturday. He is now the Championship’s fourth-highest scorer, behind Leeds United’s Ross McCormack, Burnley’s Danny Ings and Jordan Rhodes at Blackburn.
Once again, it was not just Austin’s impressive scoring rate which caught the eye, it was the quality, timing and importance of the goals, against a Huddersfield side which matched QPR for every inch of ground and departed feeling they should have taken at least a point.
That they did not was entirely down to QPR’s prolific forward. Austin’s first, taken on the run after Andy Johnson’s clever flick-on, was drilled with clinical precision past Alex Smithies. It was the striker’s first sight of goal all afternoon, finished emphatically.
His second came less then 10 minutes after Nahki Wells had poached a deserved equaliser for Huddersfield. Benoit Assou-Ekotto floated in a corner, and Austin showcased another side of his game, sending a powerful header down and into the bottom corner.
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Austin is occasionally – and unfairly – described as a ‘fox in the box’, yet he is much, much more than that. It is true that one attribute of his game is a poacher’s instinct. In a goalmouth scramble, it is invariably Austin poking in a winner, or scrambling in an equaliser.
It is a skill he honed in non-league football with Hungerford and Poole, and perfected at Swindon, Burnley and latterly at QPR.
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But as an all-round striker, there are few better in the Championship. The late, late headed winner against Doncaster Rovers, the 30-yard thunderbolt against Charlton Athletic, a dinked finish at Millwall and a close-range tap-in at home to Birmingham City - all very different goals, but all expertly taken at crucial moments from a player at the peak of his form.
Austin’s record is all the more striking because he is playing in a QPR team which go for long periods of every match finding new ways not to get the ball to their striker.
Against Huddersfield, as in many home games this season, Rangers laboured through the first half, only for Austin to relieve the tension with a moment of individual quality.
Austin has been asked to play on his own in a 4-2-3-1 formation, or with a strike partner in a 4-4-2. The result has been the same: goals. His partnership with Johnson has had occasional chances to blossom this season but been hamstrung by the latter’s injury problems.
But with Johnson fit again, Harry Redknapp seems set to continue with what looks a profitable combination, certainly at home, where QPR are expected to carry the game to opponents.
All the same, his search for another striker will continue. After the win over Huddersfield, assistant manager Kevin Bond said QPR are ‘very vulnerable’ in Austin’s absence. Johnson’s return to fitness relieves at least some of the urgency in that search.
It is tempting to wonder what Austin makes of Redknapp’s assertion that QPR need ‘a proven goal-scorer’ – 59 goals in less than three seasons in the Championship provide a record that is hard to argue with. A goal-scoring central midfielder – or at least one capable of providing Austin with better service - should be higher on Redknapp’s list of targets.
Meanwhile, Redknapp must do all he can to keep Austin, who at his current rate could well finish the season with 25 goals or more. If he does, and whether QPR are promoted or not, he will be out on his own as Rangers’ player of the season.
Such form is certain to attract attention from Premier League clubs at the end of the season. And while the focus will invariably on which players QPR sign, Austin is one of the very few who they simply cannot afford to let go.