QPR’s fine 2021 form may have continued with a comfortable 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday but what was even more impressive was the victory came without the talismanic Charlie Austin.
The 31-year-old forward was forced to sit out the Kiyan Prince Foundation encounter after being suspended having been found guilty of a stamp during last weekend’s defeat at Nottingham Forest.
Before Austin’s arrival on loan from West Bromwich Albion in January, QPR’s strikers were struggling to find both form and goals.
Mark Warburton’s side were on a downward spiral, picking up just one win from their final 12 matches of 2020 and edging ever closer to the relegation trapdoor.
Lyndon Dykes, who had been playing with such confidence off the back of his performances for Scotland, seemed like a lost man in front of goal while another summer signing, Macauley Bonne, has only found the net three times in 31 appearances.
With the club experiencing a goalscoring crisis, the arrival of Austin, who had scored 48 times in 89 games during his first spell at the club, was a more than welcome attacking boost.
Six goals in 17 appearances only tells half the story: his work rate, experience and natural ability to find himself in space to create goalscoring opportunities makes him the perfect player to lead the line.
It also appears Austin has had an impact, both directly and indirectly, on his fellow forwards with Dykes in particular coming into form.
Against Sheffield Wednesday, in Austin’s absence, Dykes turned in a man of the match display to score a brace and make it three goals in the last two games.
Indeed, the Scottish internationals’ movement to create space and get in behind defenders to grab his goals was akin to a Charlie Austin showreel, indicating the 25-year-old is clearly learning from one of the best Championship strikers.
Bonne and young forward Charlie Kelman will also surely have benefitted hugely from Austin’s daily presence around the training ground – more so than any stint away from the club on loan at a League One or Two side.
Yesterday’s win over Sheffield Wednesday keeps QPR on track to claim their best league position of recent seasons and the fact it was achieved without Austin perhaps begs the question as to whether the forward is crucial to the club’s long-term plans.
Certainly short-term, the move has been a revelation but the club will be hoping that should Austin not remain at the club past this season, the likes of Dykes will be able to continue to put what he has learnt from the player into practice next term.
Saturday’s win came against a poor side likely to be relegated to League One so perhaps the jury is out on how the Hoops could manage next season without Austin after his suspension ends following the next two games against Rotherham United and Middlesbrough.
The experienced goalscorer himself has hinted he wants to be at a club pushing for promotion as he approaches the twilight years of his career. However, another stumbling block would be the financial package that a cash-strapped QPR could provide the free-agent player.
Either way, should Charlie Austin not re-sign permanently, it is clear his influence around W12 could last a lot longer than the time he actually spends in a QPR shirt.