Richard Brook celebrates the all-guns-blazing success of a good old-fashioned double act. Charlie who?
When Charlie Austin left Burnley, for Queens Park Rangers, on the eve of the 2013-14 Championship season, the rest of the football world could have been forgiven for fearing for the Clarets, and what the striker’s loss would mean for their campaign. Even local journalists were quoted as saying that manager Sean Dyche would have to work wonders to push Burnley significantly forward from the previous season’s eleventh placed finish. Yet with close to a quarter of the league season played Burnley are defying such predictions and sit in first place in the Championship. Dyche’s men do not seem to miss Austin’s goalscoring in the slightest.
Few predicted Burnley’s impressive start to the season and the catalyst behind the Clarets’ excellent start, the lethal form of a strike partnership borne of Austin’s departure, between Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Burnley had expected to start the season with Austin up front. Austin had been linked with Hull City for much of the summer, however the deal fell through after a medical. Austin had not scored many goals in pre-season prompting some speculation that the failed transfer was on his mind. Austin found his touch to notch two goals in the 4-1 friendly win against Sparta Rotterdam, but ended up leaving the club days later, for QPR, on the Thursday before for the season opener.
Some felt that Burnley might even be in for a season of struggle as Austin, who scored 28 goals in the 2012-13 season and 45 in 90 matches during his Turf Moor stay, left the club. The timing of the departure could scarcely having been worse, coming as it did after the last game of the Clarets’ pre-season. By way of comparison the Ings and Vokes pairing that was to be deployed in his absence yielded just seven goals during 2012-13.
Even as Austin looked set to stay it appeared that Ings was ready to step up his own goalscoring form. Ings joined Austin in finding the target against Sparta Rotterdam, and the strike marked his fifth goal in four games. The departure of Austin has not hindered Ings’ streak in the least, or that of Vokes. In fact both strikers have thrived in Austin’s absence.
After eleven games, Burnley sit at the peak of the Championship, a fact that hints that maybe Sean Dyche is capable of working the “wonders” required to move Burnley forwards. During the course of the season so far, while erstwhile Burnley hero Austin has scored six goals at QPR, Ings has netted eleven times across all competitions and Vokes has found the target on eight occasions, all in the league. The pair were both on the score-sheet again, as the Claret’s defeated Reading at the weekend.
As a partnership Ings and Vokes complement each other well, but individually both players have multi-faceted skill sets. Welsh international Vokes is in some ways a physical, old-fashioned centre forward. At times his robust play and ability to get head to the ball, make him appear taller than his listed height of 6’2”. Yet the former Wolverhampton Wanderers striker has other elements to his game, a delicacy of touch and a deftness of finish, exemplified by his having the presence of mind and ability to execute a neat chipped finish in the 3-0 win over Charlton Athletic.
Similarly when one thinks of Danny Ings, this season, it is tempting to think of the directness with which he takes on opposing defenders, while sprinting, full speed towards the goal, before calmly dispatching the ball beyond the keeper. For example against Derby County, the ex-Swindon Town man picked up the ball inside his own half, rounding several defenders before he committed the keeper and picked his spot, with absolute precision. On other occasions, however, Ings has displayed a true strikers instinct to convert crosses, and some times to feed off scraps in the area.
Both men came through the youth set up at Bournemouth, where Eddie Howe finished his playing career and began his managerial career. It was Howe that brought both the strikers to Turf Moor, before returning to the Cherries citing personal reasons. Although Ings’ Burnley career was initially curtailed by two serious knee injuries he managed 33 appearances last season, scoring just three goals along the way. Vokes meanwhile scored four in 49 appearances. With both players easily surpassing their tallies for last season already, it is an extraordinary coincidence that they have both found such form at the same time this season, and that they have done so when circumstances required that Burnley find a new way to get 30 goals a season.
As well as topping the Championship the Clarets have the longest winning streak of any team in across the Premier League and Football League, comprising maximum points in each of their last five outings in the league. These wins have come against Birmingham City, Leeds United, Charlton Athletic, Doncaster Rovers and Reading. The run extends by an extra game in all competitions, with the 2-1 victory against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup.
If there were any doubt just how highly Dyche prizes Ings’ form, he has welcomed the forward’s recent call-up for England Under-21’s:
“I’m delighted he’s been recognised for his fine run of form and his performances. The England set up do their homework wisely and they’re aware of who’s who out there. Danny’s delivered performances to be recognised as a player who deserves the right to go into the Under-21 set up.”
It must be said that Ings and Vokes, and indeed the form of Burnley as a whole, has been something of a surprise package when compared to last season’s mid-table finish with the strike pairing scoring a lower combined total than Vokes has amassed on his own this season. That said eleven games into a 46 game season this start cannot be casually dismissed. It is true that a good, or indeed, a bad start would count for nothing if a team reversed their fortunes over the remaining 75% of the season, but Burnley’s start to the current campaign is not just a flash in the pan. The Clarets are certainly a team to watch and if they continue in their current vein they could be the story of the season, and it might be a case of ‘Charlie who?’