Charlie Austin couldn’t have timed his return to goalscoring form any better. With Jay Rodriguez looking set to miss the next few weeks with a groin injury, I was concerned about our goals drying up between now and the end of the season.
I needn’t have worried. Austin, who has played second fiddle to Rodriguez for much of the season, came off the bench at Portsmouth and bagged his first career hat trick in the final fifteen minutes. He began the season well, scoring 9 goals in his first 17 appearances, but then a shoulder injury suffered against Leeds United in November set him back, and after missing four matches he struggled to find the net upon his return.
Before his hat trick at Portsmouth, he had scored only twice in his previous eighteen appearances, and I think that was down to a lack of confidence brought about by the dislocation to his shoulder. It can’t have been easy for him to watch his strike partner Rodriguez – who has scored frequently and consistently throughout the campaign – grab the headlines but his goals on Saturday should provide him with the boost he needs.
With Rodriguez facing a battle to return before the end of the season, Austin has a genuine chance to overtake his partner’s league tally of fifteen. He currently stands two shy of that mark, and a fully confident Austin could be about to benefit from a purple patch over the remaining seven fixtures. Three of those games are against teams in the bottom four, and I’m sure Austin will be looking at the next few weeks as a chance to stake his claim for a regular starting berth next season.
Of his 39 appearances so far this season, 13 of those have been as a substitute and often he has only entered the action in the final ten minutes of games. On Saturday at Portsmouth he came on shortly after half time and I think that this is much more suited to his game. It gives him the time to get up to speed with the action; as we saw on Saturday, his first goal arrived twenty minutes after coming on, and two more followed in the next fifteen minutes.
His finishes were all predatory, coming from a combined distance of about fifteen yards and as an out and out goalscorer he brings something different to the squad. Rodriguez is more of an all-round forward who holds the ball up, wins the flick-ons and scores all types of goals. Martin Paterson is a workhorse; never likely to be prolific in the Championship but his high energy performances create chances for others. Danny Ings, who scored his first goal for the club at Portsmouth, looks very sharp but as yet Burnley fans have not seen enough of him to make an informed opinion.
The types of goals Austin scores remind me of watching Andy Payton in the late nineties, and as a Burnley fan I can’t pay him a higher compliment than that. He is not particularly tall, muscular or quick, but he often finds himself in the right place at the right time in and around the penalty area. His partnership with Rodriguez has produced 35 goals so far this season, and if a Premier League club do come in with a good offer for Rodriguez in the summer, Eddie Howe will have to base next year’s campaign around Austin’s goals. His display at Fratton Park on Saturday suggests he is up to it.