Currently sitting just above the bottom three on goal difference in the Barclays Premier League, Queens Park Rangers are flirting perilously close with an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship.
And if it wasn’t for the form of star striker Charlie Austin, the West London club would be cut adrift and planning for life in English football’s second tier.
His 13 League goals make up exactly half of QPR’s League goals this season. Austin’s form from now until the end of the season will go some way to deciding the Hoops’ fate.
It is not just the fact that he has scored numerous goals, only Chelsea’s Diego Costa and Manchester City’s Sergio Ageuro have netted more, but he has found the net at times when it matters most.
A hat-trick as QPR came from 2-0 down to beat fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion 3-2 back in December. A brace in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa back in October. The solitary strike in victory over Sunderland all the way back in August. To name but a few.
Austin’s goals have secured ten points for QPR this season. Without these, Chris Ramsey’s side would be bottom of the League, and ten points from safety. No coming back.
Austin, another man tipped to be a part of Roy Hodgson’s upcoming England squad, is currently side-lined by injury, although is expected back shortly. However, Leroy Fer, the second highest scorer with four goals this season, has been ruled out for ten weeks with ligament damage.
Therefore, with both Austin doubtful and Fer definitely missing from the QPR side that travel to relegation rivals Hull City tomorrow (Saturday), who sit a point and place above the Hoops, the players at Ramsey’s disposal total a meagre eight goals between them.
That is simply not going to be enough. Austin cannot continue to carry the forward line. Others have got to start chipping in regularly.
Remarkably, they have netted the most of any side in the bottom seven with 26. His tally of 13 goals is more than the whole Aston Villa squad have managed this season, although now under the stewardship of Tim Sherwood, you would expect Villa to start finding the back of the net more regularly.
However, when QPR possess attacking options like Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora, Eduardo Vargas and Mauro Zarate, that number should be even higher. That’s not even to mention Junior Hoilett, Adel Taarabt and Niko Kranjcar.
Take out Austin’s goals, and the combined contribution from the others is seven. That is simply not going to be enough.
Austin had netted in all five of QPR’s victories this season before they travelled to Sunderland last week, without their in-form striker, looking to end a disastrous run of 11 consecutive away League defeats.
And they did just that. Goals from Fer and Zamora gave the visitors a priceless 2-0 win, which could well be a turning point in their season.
They finally won on the road. They kept a clean sheet for the first time in 2015.
Significantly, they finally won without relying on Austin’s goals.
They have opening goal-scorer Fer, who is of course now injured, and goalkeeper Robert Green, who made a string of outstanding saves to keep Gus Poyet’s team at bay, to thank for inspirational displays, as well as a few others.
Austin’s goals paint a picture of an individual carrying a team, keeping them floating above the bottom three, but in his absence, others were forced to step up. They did just that at Sunderland.
Their huge clash at Hull tomorrow is a game that QPR quite simply must not lose. Others must step up again.
Their home form this season is the best of anyone in the bottom half of the League, and yet they are only out of the bottom three on goal difference.
And with four of their last six games at Loftus Road against sides in the top half, they must start picking up points away from home.
Their next three away games after Hull are Crystal Palace, West Brom and Aston Villa – all of whom are also battling against the drop.
That victory over Sunderland ten days ago, without needing to rely on Austin, could be the catalyst for better things away from home. Specifically, the catalyst for survival.
It has to be, as these games will decide whether or not QPR stay in the Premier League.
If Austin replicates his form in the run-in, then QPR will likely survive. But they cannot rely on him.
The win at Sunderland however does suggest that there is more to this QPR side than just Charlie Austin.