Charlie Austin: Is it time England called on QPR striker?
England manager Roy Hodgson's focus has been on the defensive arts this week after his contentious nomination of Argentina's Javier Mascherano for the Ballon d'Or - but he had a striker on his mind at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Wayne Rooney may have captured his attention after Hodgson took his seat in the directors' box to watch Manchester United beat Queens Park Rangers 2-0 but there is little new to learn about the man he made his captain.
The object of Hodgson's attentions was more likely to be QPR's Charlie Austin, whose 13 Premier League goals in a struggling side leave him third behind 17-goal Diego Costa of Chelsea and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero, who has 14, in the Premier League scoring charts.
Austin's place in this glittering company has been earned among growing calls for the Berkshire-born 25-year-old to win a place in England's squad, with a Euro 2016 qualifier at home to Lithuania and a friendly in Italy at the end of March.
So what was Hodgson looking for - and what did he see - at Loftus Road?
Stating his case
The stats stack up for Austin - and not just because he stands third behind Costa and Aguero.
In 20 league games this season he has scored 13 times. West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino, 21, is one of the most coveted strikers in this January transfer window and has already made the England squad. The £20m-rated man has scored nine goals in 21 games.
Another example of Austin's excellence - all achieved while playing in a side fighting for Premier League survival - can be seen when his record is set alongside Wilfried Bony, who has just joined Manchester City from Swansea City for an initial £25m.
No-one can doubt Bony's pedigree, yet he has managed nine goals in 20 games.
The stats also suggest Austin will hit the target when he gets his chances - he has a 67% shooting accuracy, only bettered by Costa (72%) and equalled by Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez.
|Carrying the team?|
|Goals||Assists||Goals and assists||Team goals||Goal involvement|
Austin's record this season is even better than Tottenham's impressive youngster Harry Kane, 21, who has eight league goals in 18 appearances and has also been talked about in terms of an England call-up.
The imminent return to fitness of Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge may present another obstacle in his path but Austin certainly makes an impressive England case when the figures are assessed.
Performance against Manchester United
If Hodgson wanted to see a player who could provide a goal threat if he called him up for England, he would not have left disappointed by Austin even in defeat.
When United were struggling in the first half, it was Austin whose physical presence and eye for a chance caused the most concerns for the three-man defensive set-up employed by visiting manager Louis van Gaal.
After 19 minutes, he brought a fine save from David De Gea with a right-foot volley, then an even better one on the half-hour, when he adjusted quickly after a poor first touch with another fine effort on target that brought the best out of the Spanish keeper. Both attempts showed good technique and impressive accuracy.
Austin is a burly figure but he showed excellent control in tight areas, both on the chest and with the ball at his feet, and also won his share in the air.
|Austin's day at the office|
|Austin had 34 touches on Saturday. His average this season is 35.45 and his lowest was in the away game against United when he had 19. He had five shots, including those blocked. He has bettered that in three games this season, including 10 against West Brom last month.|
|He had two shots on target, both saved by De Gea. He has had more in four games this season and had six in the 3-2 win against West Brom, when he scored a hat-trick as QPR came from two down to win.|
And when United did exert a measure of control, and support for Austin was lacking, the striker showed he was not afraid to go looking for work, with a willingness to drop deep to help his defence wrest the ball back from their opponents.
He was always an available target for his team-mates, showing good movement and an exemplary attitude even on a day when QPR were up against it.
Nor did he flag even when the visitors exerted their supremacy after Marouane Fellaini's goal, with James Wilson's second in stoppage time wrapping up the win.
Rangers boss Harry Redknapp believes Hodgson would have liked what he saw. "He had two great strikes and also had one or two other efforts," said Redknapp.
"Charlie has done ever so well. He's improving all the time and his attitude is first class. He comes in every day to work as hard as he can and is a credit to himself. He works hard, trains hard. He loves being a professional footballer and he deserves to continue to be successful."
'I created myself on Fifa and got in the England squad'
Austin is a player who has fought his way to the top after being released by Reading, regarded as being too small as a teenager, before going on to play in his local area for Kintbury Rangers and Hungerford Town. The tide started to turn when he came to the notice of Swindon Town after scoring 64 goals in only 57 games for ninth-tier Poole Town.
He left Swindon for Burnley in January 2011 after impressing at the County Ground with 37 goals in 65 games. The success continued with 45 goals in 90 games at Turf Moor before his arrival at Loftus Road in the summer of 2013.
This tough apprenticeship is reflected in Austin's attitude, work-rate and down-to-earth outlook. He has been shaped by his background.
|Charlie Austin: the lowdown|
|Trained with Reading's youth teams but was released at 15|
|Played non-league football until 2008, including at Poole Town while working as a bricklayer|
|While on trial at Swindon Town, Austin scored a hat-trick in his first match for the club and was signed immediately|
|Signed for Burnley in 2011 and scored 16 Championship goals in his debut season|
|In August 2013, Austin joined QPR on a three-and-a-half-year deal|
|"If we sold Charlie Austin we might as well go home" - Harry Redknapp, December 2014|
Austin told BBC Sport's Football Focus: "I appreciate it more I think. People ask if I still pinch myself - not as much any more and that's not an arrogance thing. I want to be known as Charlie Austin, the centre-forward who scores goals.
"I left school at 16 and two days later I was on a building site. People who come through academy systems leave school and go straight into training.
"Coming from where I have, you know what's on the other side. If you don't work as hard as you can trying to achieve the best you can… I don't ever want to go back to the building - 'can I do an extension? I can get a price for you?'"
QPR can certainly get a price for Austin now - and when he was on that early footballing tour of some of Berkshire's lesser-known football lights he still harboured the England dream.
He continued: "I created a character on Fifa and got him into England. If I said I'd dreamed that, people would have said 'oh shut up'. To be honest that was never in my thoughts. I couldn't have wished to be where I am now."
He even admits to playing as himself on Fifa: "People say 'oh no I don't' but that's a full-on lie."
Austin, an avid fan of EastEnders, is creating enough storylines of his own - and the best may yet come up with an England call-up.
Should Hodgson give him a go?
Why not? He is the Premier League's top England-qualified scorer and demonstrated against United that he has the ability to be a threat.
|The contenders for England recognition|
|All stats courtesy of Opta|
|Charlie Austin||Saido Berahino||Andy Carroll||Harry Kane|
|Minutes played||1, 734||1, 583||839||1, 163|
Is he international class? Who knows until he is given that opportunity? One thing is certain - this is a player and personality who has known the harder times in football and that background will make him determined to take any chance he may get from Roy Hodgson.