When the England squad was announced last week, the usual debate raged on social media channels. 'Player X should be in instead of Player Y' is always the crux of each argument, with questions asked of Roy Hodgson as to why a certain performer was not included. When the FA released the 26-man list on Thursday, Charlie Austin's omission was highlighted, perhaps more so than others.
When factoring in Rickie Lambert's inclusion, Austin's exclusion becomes all the more puzzling. Hodgson gained a first hand look at the QPR striker during the R's 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Saturday evening and must have rued the fact that he could not have waited until Monday to name his 26-man squad. Earlier in the day, fans witnessed Lambert's 11-minute cameo during Liverpool's 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea, the highlight (lowlight) of which for the former Southampton ace was comically falling to floor as the Reds pressed for an equaliser.
Austin, meanwhile, was in fine form for QPR, bagging the opener having seen two earlier goals ruled out by referee Mike Dean. His first half strike took his Premier League tally to 6 this season; only Saido Berahino (7) has scored more of English players. Austin's importance to QPR this season cannot be overstated, having directly contributed to 7 (6 goals and 1 assist) of their 11 league goals this term. Such form is deserving of international recognition.
Interestingly, Austin's rise to prominence is not too disimilar to that of Lambert. The QPR star was plying his trade for non-league side Poole Town a little over five years ago, while at the same time working as a bricklayer. His form on the south coast resulted in a move to Swindon Town and then Burnley, before he joined QPR in 2013. This season Austin is emerging as one of the Premier League's top marksmen and there is little reason why he cannot maintain this good run of form and earn himself a call up.
Only Leroy Fer (7.16) and Steven Caulker (7.05) have earned a better WhoScored rating than Austin (7.04) of all QPR players in the Premier League this season. It's a commendable score for the 25-year-old in his debut year in England's top tier and marks quite the turnaround following his first game in the Premier League, where Austin missed an 84th minute penalty on the opening day 1-0 home defeat to Hull.
Since the international break in mid-October, Austin is the Premier League's highest rated Englishman (7.84) of all players to have featured in at least 2 of the 4 league games over that period. 4 of his 6 goals and his 1 league assist came in the same run of games, coinciding with QPR's much-improved performances. While sat in the bottom three heading into the international break, the display against Manchester City, a match they could have won, will have buoyed manager Harry Redknapp as they look to turn Loftus Road into a fortress.
"I love Charlie (Austin). There's no bigger fan of Charlie than me," the R's boss said of his number 1 frontman in the aftermath of the stalemate with the defending Premier League champions. Redknapp has every right to be enthused about Austin's recent form and the display against City will have reaffirmed his belief that the striker can play a vital role in keeping QPR afloat this term.
Austin gave stand-in centre-back pairing Eliaquim Mangala and Martín Demichelis a difficult evening on Saturday and his hassling of opposition defenders and excellent hold up play creates space for others, which can then be exploited. Summer arrival Eduardo Vargas is perhaps the player who can profit most from Austin's tireless work rate in the final third. The Chilean's best asset is his pace and he can use this to get in behind defences, which can wreak havoc against tiring defenders.
Hodgson currently favours a 4-3-1-2 formation and with Raheem Sterling in the number 10 role; Austin's impact could help the Liverpool star. While Lambert has had a chance to work with Sterling both on the pitch and in training, Austin's form of late is an indication that he would be better suited in attack at present than his Premier League counterpart.
Only Sergio Agüero (5.2), Graziano Pellè (4.3) and Mario Balotelli (3.9) are averaging more shots per game in the Premier League this season than Austin (3.5). The striker's confidence is evidently at an all-time high and this is reflected in his performances on the pitch.
If he can prolong the level of consistency he has shown over the last 4 games for the foreseeable future, QPR have a much better chance of staving off relegation. From a personal perspective, though, Austin will look to maintain his good form in order to force his way into Hodgson's next England squad, having arguably been harshly overlooked this time around.