Southampton: Charlie Austin’s fitness is the main cause of their problems
The English striker is comfortably top scorer for the Saints despite starting just six league games this season.
Back in late November, Southampton were in need of a morale-boosting victory as they hosted an equally out-of-form Everton on the South Coast.
Then managed by Mauricio Pellegrino, the Saints had netted a miserly nine goals from their opening 13 games. However, for the first time all season, Charlie Austin started for Pellegrino’s men and the 28-year-old netted twice in a 4-1 victory.
Austin’s double that day ensured he has had a hand in eight goals in his past 11 Premier League starts but the problem was that relatively brief run of games had comes across an 18-month spell.
During that time, the forward had suffered from a series of shoulder injuries and muscle strains which, it is now becoming clear, have contributed to Southampton’s struggles this season.
Ups and downs
After his brace against Everton, the former Queen’s Park Rangers player then started each of his side’s next six games in the busy run-up to Christmas and his presence proved vital. He scored the side’s only goals in draws with Bournemouth, Arsenal and Huddersfield.
But then his luck took a turn for the worse: he was handed a three-match suspension for violent conduct after an incident with Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, having also sustained a hamstring injury.
The layoff ensured the striker could not return to training for three months and could not feature again for Pellegrino, who was dismissed in March. He appeared from the bench in last week’s 3-0 defeat at West Ham in what was another limp performance from the Saints, but more fight was shown against Arsenal on Sunday.
Austin came on with 18 minutes remaining and within a minute, had found the net – his second of the season against the Gunners. Southampton were to lose the match but they showed much greater attacking intent and belief, and this was no doubt helped by the striker’s return to action.
A meteoric rise
It is easy to forget just how meteoric Austin’s rise through the ranks was.
Less than six years after combining his job as a bricklayer alongside playing for semi-professional side Poole Town, he had earned his first call-up to the England national side.
It is also forgotten that the 6’2″ target man was initially released from Reading’s youth ranks on account of being too small, spending four years in non-league football.
Averaging comfortably over a goal a game in non-league football, Swindon Town gave Austin his first break as a 20-year-old and after netting 37 goals in 65 appearances, he joined Burnley 18 months later.
A career marred
His record at the Clarets was again prolific, scoring 45 times in his two full seasons at the Championship club before moving to QPR.
His 20 goals in 2013/14 helped the Rs to promotion with his first ever season in England’s top flight bringing about an impressive goal return of 18. However, injuries have disrupted Austin’s continued ascent, ruling him out for a total of one year’s action across the last four campaigns.
This season he is the Saints top league scorer with seven goals despite starting just six matches while no other striker for the club has more than four.
Should Southampton go down this summer, they will no doubt be made to lament their hitman’s misfortune with injuries while Austin himself should have no shortage of suitors.
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