Charlie Austin brace helps sink former club Burnley
Southampton continue quiet progress after Tom Heaton’s resistance finally broken
Charlie Austin scores from the spot during Southampton’s win over Burnley. Photograph: Getty
Austin, who averaged a goal every two leagues games during two seasons at Turf Moor, underlined his growing importance to Southampton by opening the scoring early in the second half and then netting a penalty. Nathan Redmond interspersed the two goals with a sweetly struck effort of his own, before Sam Vokes converted a penalty to became the first player in seven matches to infiltrate Southampton’s exceptionally vigilant defence.
Puel appeared unconvinced about Austin earlier in the season but the striker has forced his way to the top of the pecking order thanks to a scoring streak that now stands at seven goals in his last six matches. He had enough chances to make that tally even more impressive here.
Despite being below their best Southampton won this comfortably, although Burnley could plausibly argue that pivotal penalty decisions went against them.
Southampton would have taken the lead in the fifth minute if Austin had not been thwarted by a wonderful save by Tom Heaton. The chance was created by Matt Targett, who fired in a cross from the left. Austin produced a downward header from six yards but Heaton responded by giving a lesson in top-class goalkeeping, plunging quickly to his left to push the ball round a post with a strong hand. Austin used his own hands to clasp his head in disbelief.
Before the match fans were given face masks of Francis Benali, Southampton’s popular former left-back who had just completed a 1,000 mile trek around all of England’s league grounds to raise money for cancer research. The focus soon shifted to the club’s current left-backs, as Targett pulled up with a suspected muscle injury in the 13th minute. He was only starting because Ryan Bertrand was out with hamstring trouble. Puel’s regular squad rotation has not spared Southampton from injuries as they combine domestic chores with the Europa League. Targett was replaced here by Sam McQueen, a 21-year-old who had never played in the Premier League. What a chance this was for the rookie to stake a claim for a regular role just before Thursday’s trip to Internazionale and next weekend’s duel with Manchester City.
Burnley struggled to find any weakness in Southampton’s defence even after the change. The visitors have been punished severely by the suspension of Andre Gray for comments made online long before he joined the Lancashire club. They had a grievance here when Virgil van Dijk brought an unceremonious end to a run into the box by Johann Gudmundsson. The referee, Mike Dean, waved play on and Southampton did exactly that, Dusan Tadic sweeping a fine pass into the path of Austin. With Heaton stranded in no man’s land, Austin attempted a long-distance lob but got it pitifully wrong, squirting a low shot way wide.
Tadic was presented with an even better chance a couple of minutes later thanks to a mighty clearance by Fraser Forster. Heaton stood up as the forward bore down on him and then made a straightforward stop from a weak shot. Southampton tried to beat Heaton a couple of more times before the break but Redmond and Van Dijk were both foiled without fuss. Burnley’s satisfaction with their goalkeeper was offset by the loss of Steven Defour. The midfielder has become influential since being purchased in August and was missed after succumbing to a hamstring injury just before half-time.
That blow was compounded in the 52nd minute when Austin helped himself to a reward for his persistence. Van Dijk headed the ball across goal from a corner and it deflected off Jordy Clasie’s shoulder to Austin, who tried to hook it into the net from two yards. Vokes blocked it but Austin stabbed the rebound into the net. Austin could not conceal his joy, which was understandable in view of his earlier misses and the fact that his four-year old daughter was watching from the stands for the first time.
The visitors’ lack of a cutting edge made a comeback highly unlikely. The possibility became even more remote eight minutes later, when Redmond doubled the home side’s lead. It was a sweet finish by the forward, who lashed a low half-volley past several bodies and into the net from 16 yards following a corner.
Six minutes later McQueen showed that while he may be inexperienced he is not without wiles, as he tumbled in the box following a gauche challenge by Gudmundsson. Austin duped Heaton into the diving one way and rolled the ball into the opposite corner.
Burnley’s only consolation was that they scored their first away league goal of the season after José Fonte was adjudged to have illegally blocked a run by Ben Mee as Burnley delivered a corner. Vokes converted the spotkick but the hosts’ victory never looked in danger.