Charlie Austin is having an exceptional season with Southampton, but is it too late for him to force his way into Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad?
There isn't a lot of time left to convince Gareth Southgate if you are on the fringes of the England squad.
With almost half of the season having been played time is most certainly running out. The Three Lions boss will already have an idea of who he wants to take to next summers World Cup. There is even less room to impress for any English strikers that harbour any hope of receiving a pick.
The form of Harry Kane this season and general upward trajectory of his career have made the young Londoner arguably the most valuable striker in not only Europe but the world.
There won’t be many other seats on the plane to Moscow, with Kane’s ticket seemingly already booked.
There is no better time to strike then while the iron is hot. If any player is going to come into form then doing it on the home stretch before the World Cup would almost guarantee selection.
That will be how Charlie Austin hopes proceedings will play out.
Charlie Austin’s Purple Patch
The Southampton striker has now scored 4 goals in his last 5 games and is beginning to get the attention of the England fans. Austin is a natural goal scorer and has been doing it his whole career.
During his time at Swindon, Burnley and QPR before he arrived at Southampton, he scored 128 goals in 242 games. This works out to a goal every 1.8 games.
Life on the coast at Southampton has been a bit harder with Austin averaging a goal every 2.8 games. His record reads 15 goals in 45 games which is by no means poor but could be higher.
Injuries won't help Charlie Austin make the World Cup squad
Injury has made its presence felt throughout Austin’s career and without a doubt has impacted his goal return at Southampton.
The man from Hungerford had scored nine goals before December last season when he dislocated his shoulder during a Europa League clash against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
It has been stop-start since December 2016 and Austin will be hoping his injury woes are behind him. This will allow him to focus on doing what he does best - putting the ball in the back of the net.
If he can stay fit then history indicates Austin will score goals and help Southampton climb the league.
The added bonus that comes with scoring goals frequently for the Saints is that Austin will put himself on Southgate’s radar.
He may have done so already with his odds being slashed from 33/1 for World Cup selection to now being backed at 10/1 on the latest odds provided by Oddschecker.
Austin will have to be at his best and injury free if he is to get the nod from Southgate as there isn't a lack of striking options for the England manager to pick from.
The competition facing Charlie Austin for World Cup berth
Barring injury it seems unlikely that the ever-improving Jamie Vardy won’t be selected by Southgate.
The Leicester City man has been enjoying another fruitful season with the Foxes. In 17 games Vardy has seven goals and one assist, that goal return isn’t anything like a couple of seasons back during Leicesters title-winning season.
But there has been a managerial change after Craig Shakespeare was fired which always suggests a team hasn’t been playing well. Through that Vardy has made the most and will be a player Austin will have to compete against.
Marcus Rashford is enjoying a promising follow-up to his breakthrough season. The young striker has nine goals in 26 appearances for the Red Devils.
What is most impressive about the young Mancunian’s display is his ability to not only score goals but assist. He has nine assists to his name in his 26 games which adds another dimension to his game.
Rashford’s odds of making the World Cup squad are in some cases 1/10. His contribution at next year's World Cup should he be selected will be crucial. Especially if England hopes to advance far in the tournament.
Southgate's Potential Selections
Harry Kane is assured of a place in Russia next year. The most likely to accompany Kane would be Vardy and Rashford.
Menaing Charlie Austin would be competing with the likes of Sturridge and Welbeck for the opportunity to become the fourth striker at the world cup.
There is a chance Rashford will be used as a winger. This would greatly increase Austin’s chances of going to his maiden World Cup.
Austin is yet to register an England cap, but that doesn’t necessarily rule him out. It does though put 28-year-old at a slight disadvantage as there are younger players with more international honours.
At 20 Rashford has 15 caps which has yielded two goals. Welbeck and Sturridge have 62 England caps combined and Harry Kane has 23.
It is not only the youth knocking loudly at Southgate’s door but also the more seasoned campaigners. The England boss could turn to Jermain Defoe if he was looking for a bit more guile up front.
The Bournemouth striker has 57 England caps and 20 goals and is no stranger to international football. Defoe is also no stranger to World Cup selection heartache. In 2006, England snubbed Defoe. It happened again in 2014 and left Defoe ‘heartbroken’.
The End of Season Bunfight
The only way to guarantee Gareth Southgate's undivided attention is to be prolific in front of goal.
Realistically there are only a few spots left open in Southgate’s squad. But a strong showing in the New Year and over Easter will do no harm.
For a player like Charlie Austin who has been hamstrung by injuries that have curtailed possible game time for him, the only way to get in would be to smash down Southgate’s door with the sheer weight of goals scored.
Will Southgate Roll the Dice with Charlie Austin?
There is a huge amount of risk attached to picking an unknown quantity that a manager takes when doing so. This is especially the case when trying to assemble a squad to win a World Cup.
Selecting a player like Austin will have grave consequences if there are other players available with more experience.
The guillotine would fall squarely on Southgate’s shoulders should the experiment fail.
If Charlie Austin kept up his prowess in front of goal and earned a pick from Southgate it could be looked at as a stroke of genius. Especially if the Southampton striker netted a few crucial goals for England that helped them progress further than they have gone for some time.
Southgate will have to way up the risk and the possible reward he and England may get. With any risk-taking, there is a chance of failure. But maybe England needs to push the envelope and adopt a bolder approach.
For too long England have been unimaginative and predictable at World Cups. This has resulted in a string of bad to mediocre finishes. Their selection policy is one part of the problem.
If Southgate wants to be the man to finally deliver a World Cup back to England after a 52 year wait, then he will need to be courageous with the decisions he makes.