When Rickie Lambert scored the winner in England’s friendly with Scotland back in August 2013, much was made of the striker’s meteoric rise from the humble beginnings of non-league Marine, Blackpool and Macclesfield via a short stint in a beetroot factory.
Lambert had to wait until he was 31 for his first England cap and now, after earning 10 more in the following 18 months or so, it seems like the chances of adding to that tally will be severely limited as his lack of games for Liverpool leaves him struggling against a sudden growth of attacking options available to Roy Hodgson.
Saido Berahino has 10 Premier League goals for West Bromwich Albion while Danny Ings has 9, Andy Carroll hit 5 for West Ham after returning from injury (before he suffered a new season-curtailing knock), Daniel Sturridge has hit form immediately for Liverpool after recovering from his own long-term injury and Hodgson is adamant his captain Wayne Rooney will remain as a striker despite being fielded as a centre-midfielder by his club boss Louis Van Gaal.
The battle to partner Rooney is heating up as England prepare for next month’s games with Lithuania and Italy, and Hodgson’s recent vocal backing of Tottenham’s Harry Kane in the midst of the searing form that has taken him to 23 goals in 35 games this season suggests the 21 year old will be included. Though Hodgson was curiously quiet on the other Englishman who is levelled on Kane’s 13 in the league-scoring charts, QPR’s Charlie Austin whose career path bears similarities to Lambert’s.
It was the 46 goals from 46 games for Poole Town in the semi-professional Wessex League Premier Division, whilst he worked as a bricklayer that brought him to the attention of Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, unable to sign the striker due to a transfer embargo, and Swindon’s chief scout Ken Ryder.
Ryder would bring him to the Football League and the goals would flow; 37 in 65 games for Swindon then 45 in 90 for Burnley. QPR’s £4 million would get them 20 Championship goals from Austin as they achieved promotion last summer, but the 25 year old would face questions on whether he could do what so many have failed (David Nugent, Jay Bothroyd, Robert Earnshaw etc.) and translate that form to the very highest level.
Those doubts have been answered emphatically with the 13 goals that have been a huge factor behind Rangers sitting out of the relegation zone with 13 games left despite their decrepit away form which saw them lose on every trip up until last week’s triumph at Sunderland. 9 of Austin’s goals have come at Loftus Road where they have been bolder and more attacking, partnering Austin with Bobby Zamora in a 4-4-2 to produce results that have been vital in QPR’s bid to stay up.
Such examples have come with the hat-trick in the 3-2 win over West Brom and the brace over Aston Villa, ensuring points over close relegation rivals while showcasing the facets of Austin’s ability in front of goal. The bullet strike from outside the area against Villa or the powerful header from a corner against West Brom, or even the superbly taken control-turn-and-volley strike at Southampton make for an impressive show-reel.
Austin is a burly presence who provides restless work for opposition defenders, full of movement and able to constantly press them when they are in possession. He also has the quality to pounce onto the ball and create something from very little, traits that left Manchester City and United rather fortunate to leave Loftus Road with reward this season. His game is one that has obviously been forged in the lower leagues, full of work and enthusiasm for the opportunities he has been given.
However his link-up play perhaps needs some work, Austin averages 21 passes per game from which he has created a measly 13 chances and just 2 assists from his 22 games so far, a poor return for a striker who operates in a partnership. Though one cannot argue with Austin’s effectiveness in front of goal, where he is rated highest in the league, ahead of the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, for shot accuracy with 67% from 84 shots. Austin is also the striker most integral to his side’s attacking fortunes having been directly involved in 60% of Rangers’ 25 league goals.
Having lost Harry Redknapp earlier in the month QPR are now tasked with staying up under the guise of caretaker coach Chris Ramsey, who will be hugely reliant on Austin returning to top form after a recent toe injury. He will come back fully aware that should he continue among the goals an England call-up may yet present itself as the next stage of Austin’s remarkable career progression at the end of March.
Whether he is of the required class to play internationally will be up for debate, but it can only be settled if he is given the chance he may have warranted. If he is, it is certain he will respond the same way to every level of challenge his career has so far thrown at him. Yet again, he may end up surprising many people.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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