Austin’s powerful brace moves QPR up to second – report
Sunday, 19th Jan 2014 22:13 by Clive Whittingham
Two more goals for flying forward Charlie Austin sealed an entertaining 2-1 win for QPR against an impressive Huddersfield team at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Take Charlie Austin’s 14 goals away from Queens Park Rangers’ total this season and they’d have 13 fewer points and be outside the play-off zone. Leave them in, including the two powerful efforts that won a close and entertaining match against Huddersfield at Loftus Road on Saturday, and the R’s are back up to second and still on course for an immediate return to the Premier League.
QPR’s next top scorer after the former Burnley man is Matt Phillips with three and having climbed unfeasibly high to head home a last minute winner against Doncaster Rovers on this ground on New Year’s Day, Austin further underlined his importance to Harry Redknapp’s side against the Terriers from the other side of Yorkshire.
Both were typical goals from a player who betrays his brick-layer past with a rough, bustling, physical style that marries up with footballing ability to make him the perfect Championship centre forward. The first was powered home with his right foot at the Loft End after Niko Kranjcar had helped Clint Hill’s long punt onto Andy Johnson and he’d nodded it down in Austin’s path. The second, which turned out to be the winner, was headed home inside a crowded six yard box when Benoit Assou-Ekotto finally cured QPR’s chronic problem with delivering well from corner kicks.
Austin came to QPR with a record of 45 goals in 90 appearances for Burnley but with question marks hanging over his head. Hull City had reneged on a deal to sign him during the summer at the eleventh hour citing a long-standing knee problem, and there was a court case for a violent incident in a nightclub toilet to brush under the carpet as well. Initially it looked like an odd addition for a club chanting a “right sort” mantra in the wake of a horror 2012/13 campaign.
But having spent his late teens and early 20s forging a career at football’s coalface, playing for hometown Hungerford and non-league Poole Town while carrying brick for his father’s building company, before getting a chance at Swindon, Austin has developed into a first class centre forward and vital asset to QPR. His work rate, strength in the air and hold up and lay game are every bit as important as his eye for goal which has never diminished since he turned professional back in 2009. In a QPR team that’s basing its success on defence, rather than creating a slew of chances, Austin now has 14 goals in 27 appearances.
And so he should, some would argue, given that newly relegated QPR spent £4m to bring him in from Turf Moor during the summer – a fair whack for a Championship team that was meant to be trying to trim its wage bill at the time. Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle said earlier this season that the money spent by the relegated sides - £25-30m on wages alone according to him – was “horrendous” and cited one side paying a loan player £34,000 a week. “Some clubs that have come down from the top division have behaved unbelievably,” he said, and it didn’t need the might of the Met Police’s forensic crime unit to work out which club he’s referring to.
Huddersfield’s wage bill was reduced to £9m for this season and their transfer policy is based on scouting further down the leagues – Joe Lolley arrived this week after impressing in the Conference for Kidderminster and sat on the bench here, Nahki Wells has arrived from Bradford and already starting repaying his transfer fee with a late winner on his debut against Millwall last week.
Here Wells was bright, lively and threatening. He equalised in the sixty eighth minute when Tom Carroll conceded possession on the corner of the QPR penalty area giving the impressive Adam Hammill an invitation to press on to the byline and stand a cross up for Wells to glance home inside the six yard box.
The value of paying good money for quality strikers shone through at both ends of the field, in both a positive and a negative way. While Wells and Austin showed their obvious ability, ultimately Town were denied a draw they definitely deserved, or even an away win they could lay a reasonable claim to, by the profligacy of 22 year old forward Danny Ward, who has only scored five times this season in 21 appearances and wasted three wonderful opportunities to put his team ahead in a first half dominated by the visitors.
He was played into space vacated by Danny Simpson when Andy Johnson and Tom Carroll made a mess of a passing interchange in the third minute but volleyed over the bar. Within 60 seconds QPR had presented Ward with the ball again – O’Neil culpable this time – and with the offside flag down he should have done more than drag a low shot across goal and wide. Then on the half hour Huddersfield got in down the left and a low cross saw Ward and Hill bundle the ball into Rob Green’s arms from point blank range.
Had the ball fallen to Wells, Austin, or James Vaughan who was only fit enough for the bench and 40 minutes of second half action at Ward’s expense, then this game could have played out in a very different way. Sometimes in football you get what you pay for.
QPR had only conceded four goals at home in 12 matches this season prior to kick off so it was possibly a surprise to a sizeable, noisy travelling support in the School End to see their team creating chances quite so readily and enjoying quite so much space in the QPR half.
But then more often than not at Loftus Road this season, teams have come and shut up shop and tried to hold “big spending QPR” to a goalless draw rather than show any ambition and willingness to set about a team that, while expensively assembled, is flawed in a number of areas. Such negativity was entirely absent from Huddersfield’s approach – they came with three centre halves, progressive wing backs, and two lively strikers.
And until now Rangers have almost always lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that crowds the midfield area and denies opponents space. On Saturday, partly through the absence of Joey Barton with a thigh injury, and also a desire to provide more support for Austin in the form of Andy Johnson, Harry Redknapp fielded a midfield four. The results, against Huddersfield’s five, were regular overloads of visiting players on the counter attack, and a difficult afternoon for Little Tom Carroll who has always struggled when fielded in a 4-4-2 shape at QPR, his parent club Tottenham, and previous loan destination Derby.
Redknapp raised eyebrows when he told the Sky Sports reporter hanging around outside Harlington at the fag end of deadline day that Rangers would “play through Tom” this season but he has been as good as his word. The Tottenham loanee is vital to Rangers because he’s not only the only one who wants to receive the ball in deep areas from the centre backs, but also the only one trying to pass the ball incisively, intelligently, forwards. Without him Rangers are left with Joey Barton’s Hollywood pass roadshow, or a series of midfielders like Karl Henry and Gary O’Neil who only go sideways and backwards. But his slight frame means it’s a big ask, and in a 4-4-2 the added defensive responsibilities have him chasing his own shadow at times. He never hid on Saturday, but he looked like he was drowning against one of the division’s better sides at times.
On several occasions Rangers were forced to commit cynical fouls to bring threatening counter attacks to a close. Murray Wallace struck a powerful free kick straight into Andy Johnson’s face on the end of the wall after Clint Hill felled Ward on the edge of the area. Then Gary O’Neil chopped down Paul Dixon on the other side of the area with the time barely into double figures and Oliver Norwood took a turn with a direct shot that flew through the wall and was well saved by Rob Green. Later, in three minutes of first half stoppage time, Hill was rightly yellow carded by referee Simon Hooper for hauling down Hammill 20 yards from goal and Paul Dixon had a shot blocked away. And with only four minutes left for play Carroll himself was booked for a deliberate trip on Huddersfield substitute Sean Scannell as he threatened to race away into space hunting a late equaliser.
The desire of the masses to see Rangers play with two up front must be weighed against the problems the Super Hoops bring on themselves by only fielding four in midfield. It doesn’t suit Carroll, Barton, Henry or Niko Kranjcar, it doesn’t suit QPR, and it didn’t work – defensively – at all on Saturday. Huddersfield could, and perhaps should, have won.
Despite the extra man in attack, Rangers struggled to pose a threat in the first half. Richard Dunne wasn’t far off converting a tenth minute corner from Kranjcar that was flicked on by Johnson at the near post, and then O’Neil lashed over after Benoit Assou-Ekotto had put in a wonderful cross from the left side. Assou-Ekotto smacked one out of the ground after Danny Simpson had reached the byline and drilled a low cross right through the goalmouth, and was a good deal closer with a 25 yarder when a corner was nudged in his direction by Carroll. Johnson chested the ball down but shot straight at Alex Smithies.
Austin and Henry both hit the bar with headers within five seconds of each other from Kranjcar’s corner just after the half hour – easily as close as either side came to breaking the first half deadlock – but Huddersfield had plenty of opportunities of their own. Wells forced a save out of Green with a near post header after a quarter of an hour, played Jonathan Hogg into a situation he should have done a lot better with them simply shoot low at the keeper, and then tried a low shot after 18 minutes. Later the former Bradford man saw a shot blocked by Simpson after turning in the area when Kranjcar and Carroll conceded possession while playing out from the back.
Johnson’s yellow card on the stroke of half time for a wild challenge on Adam Clayton summed up the frustration and – yet again – surgery was required on the QPR side at half time, with Matt Phillips introduced to offer an outlet wide right, and Gary O’Neil withdrawn after another ineffective display. Copying and pasting from previous weeks, it is a concern that Harry Redknapp is being required to raid his bench so early in games, so often.
The changes improved Rangers, who were much the better of the two teams after the break. Austin’s first certainly settled nerves, but Dunne had already had a firm, downward header cleared from the line from an early corner before that. Phillips hit a powerful drive that Smithies saved well down in the bottom corner but should have done much better with a free header from six yards out with 20 minutes left to play after Henry had been worked in down the right by Kranjcar and crossed well to the near post. After that he reached the byline in the Huddersfield box and laid the perfect low cross on a plate in the six yard box only to find that neither Johnson nor Austin had gambled on the service arriving.
Huddersfield had equalised by then, deservedly so taking the whole game into account but against the run of play in the second half when, despite sending on Vaughan for Ward and Scannell for Norwood, they’d only forced Robert Green into one tip over when Smith guided a deep corner back towards goal and, for one moment it seemed, over the stranded keeper before he scrambled back and got a palm to the ball.
A draw would have perhaps been a fair result, but that reckoned without Austin heading home with 12 minutes left for play – Huddersfield perhaps guilty of switching off at a set piece that that came immediately after a stoppage so Adam Hammill could be treated and eventually replaced by Oscar Gobern from the bench.
QPR enjoyed a late cameo from Armand Traore who, seemingly buoyed by his first ever goal for the club at Ipswich last week, came on for the final ten minutes instead of Andy Johnson and impressed with several lung-busting runs down the left side. But Rangers were still reduced to wasting time by the corner flag during four minutes of added time and they were lucky to survive when Scannell crossed low for Hogg at the near post but Hill produced a match-winning block. Green was grateful to safely claim a last second header from Vaughan after Dunne has miscued his attempted clearance.
Back-to-back victories for the first time since the beginning of October lifts the R’s back into second with two more home games still to come before they head out on their travels again. But it’s the form and fitness of Austin, more than the fixture or anything else, on which so much hangs at Loftus Road this season.
At the moment, his return is almost faultless.
QPR: Green 7; Simpson 7, Dunne 6, Hill 6, Assou-Ekotto 7; Kranjcar 6, Carroll 5, Henry 6, O’Neil 5 (Phillips 45, 7); Johnson 6 (Traore 81, 7), Austin 7
Subs not used: Wright-Phillips, Onuoha, Diakite, Zamora, Murphy
Goals: Austin 55 (assisted Johnson), 79 (assisted Assou-Ekotto)
Bookings: Johnson 43 (foul), Hill 45+2 (foul), Carroll 86 (foul)
Huddersfield: Smithies 6; Wallace 6, Gerrard 6, Smith 6; Dixon 6, Hogg 7, Clayton 7, Norwood 6 (Scannell 67, 7), Hammill 7 (Gobern 78, 6); Ward 5 (Vaughan 51, 6) Wells 7
Subs not used: Woods, Bennett, Lolley, Holmes
Goals: Wells 68 (assisted Hammill)
QPR Star Man – Charlie Austin 7 Two more goals, and a powerful display of forward play, that meant QPR won a game they could easily have lost. A shoo in for Player of the Season, and all set to bag 20 goals in his first campaign with the club, if he carries on like this.
Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 9 No complaints with any of the bookings, allowed the game to flow well and stayed well out of the way. Easy to see why he’s so highly rated at the moment, and probably destined for the Premier League next season.
Attendance – 17,185 (1,868 Huddersfield) A fantastic away following from Huddersfield – both in size and noise – added to the atmosphere that was better than it has been at some of the festive home games, but still not great. How refreshing though to see an evenly contested game, between two teams trying to win the match, played in a reasonable atmosphere – it’s been a rarity in W12 this season.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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