October 16, 2016 - 3:07 PM
LONDON - As the goals have dried up for Jamie Vardy at Leicester, another former non-league striker has embarked on a hot scoring streak for a Premier League club.
Charlie Austin made it seven goals in six games in all competitions for Southampton with a double in Sunday's 3-1 victory over Burnley that took the south-coast club up to eighth in the standings.
In a career that began outside England's four professional leagues, Burnley provided the 27-year-old Austin with one of his stepping stones to the world's richest soccer competition.
Austin was a bricklayer working a full day on a building site before playing on a part-time basis for Poole Town in the ninth tier until 2009. It took third-tier club Swindon to pluck Austin from obscurity, for Burnley to take him up another league and then QPR to give him a shot at the Premier League.
Still, doubts persisted around Austin's fitness. Southampton was able to snap him up for 4 million pounds (then $6 million) in January. What a bargain that now seems.
The case looks increasingly compelling for Austin to return to the England squad for the first time since 2015 when he failed to make his international debut. Particularly if England interim manager Gareth Southgate is comparing Austin's form with Vardy's for Leicester when it comes to selecting players to face Scotland and Spain next month.
After a 24-goal haul last season, Vardy has only scored twice this campaign and his goal drought reached seven matches on Saturday as Leicester's feeble title defence continued with a loss at Chelsea.
Like Southampton on Sunday, Leicester also put three past Burnley a month ago but Austin — unlike Vardy — seized on the opportunity to punish the struggling Premier League newcomer's defence.
Austin's first goal, in the 52nd minute, was down to persistence rather than finesse. Virgil van Dijk met Dusan Tadic's corner with a header across the face of goal to Austin. The first shot was blocked on the line by Sam Vokes, but Austin followed up by poking the ball into the net.
After Nathan Redmond's low volley from the edge of the area doubled Southampton's lead, Austin was on target from the penalty spot in the 66th minute following Johann Berg Gudmundsson's push on Sam McQueen.
The one blot on the afternoon for the Saints was Burnley becoming the first team to score against them in 612 minutes when Vokes scored a late penalty.
But Austin and his teammates will travel to Italy full of confidence for one of the biggest games in the club's history — a Europa League game against Inter Milan on Thursday.
"This team will always create chances, it's a dream for any striker," Austin said. "I am in the right place at the right time."
But he is not guaranteed a place in the starting lineup in Milan.
"It's important he doesn't play all the games from the start," manager Claude Puel said. "It's important you don't lose Charlie, it's important he's available every time, to keep a good physical level for every player.
"Charlie is not an endurance player. It's important to keep him with his qualities and we can change the team every game. It's not possible, for me, for a player to start all the games every three days."
Burnley is only a point above the relegation zone, with seven points from its first eight games back in the Premier League.
MIDDLESBROUGH 0, WATFORD 1
The day's first Premier League game lacked the entertainment provided later by Southampton, with the only memorable moment coming with Jose Holebas's eye-catching goal.
The 32-year-old Greek midfielder sent a shot from the edge of the penalty area soaring into the top of the net in the 54th minute at the Riverside stadium in northeast England.
Watford climbed to 10th place as Middlesbrough remained winless at home this season since returning to the Premier League and only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016