The Armageddon Index, which counts the cost of relegation from the Premier League, shifted significantly as Charlie Austin, the embodiment of Burnley’s unequal struggle to survive, dominated a match of suitably poignant contrasts.
His impact was compressed into a four minute sequence in the second half, when his fifth goal in four home games was sandwiched between two yellow cards, for challenges which led to Harry Redknapp’s ritual insistence he is “not a nasty type of player”
Austin was reluctantly sold by Burnley for £4m at start of last season, and financial expedience means he will be discarded, for a suitable profit, if Rangers go down to face potentially ruinous sanctions for defying financial fair play restrictions.
That remains a realistic possibility, despite a win which lifts them out of the bottom three for the first time since September. It is a little early for their supporters to indulge in the sort of turf war which prompted chants of “West London is ours” in response to Chelsea’s defeat in the day’s early kick off.
Burnley were by far the better side in the first half, when Robert Green’s fingertip saves from George Boyd and Scott Arfield left Redknapp eulogising “ a great keeper, a great pro and a fantastic person.” Purists will inevitably yearn for the Clarets survival.
They are a club which mirrors old fashioned values, and represents a small but perfectly formed football town. The players are routinely patronised, as earnest and defiant in the face of assumptions of inferiority, but their qualities have real resonance.
“This is a group which was written off an hour after getting promotion,” reflected their manager, Sean Dyche. “The perception is changing. There is an honesty about us. We’re not broken. We can take a knock and come back again.”
Only a fool, or a casual observer, would judge Dyche by appearances. The gravelly voice, severe haircut and taut sergeant major shoulders disguise a man enriched by adversity, both as a player and manager.
He is lucid but realistic, friendly rather than forbidding. He looks beyond the everyday dramas of the Premier League circus, and focuses on the basics. The contrast with his opposite number Redknapp was marked.
The QPR manager has the air of a tired old Vaudevillian, shivering in the wind of change. His patter remains word perfect, but the body language speaks of world weariness. He was barely animated, even when Rangers took a 51st-minute lead.
Austin was the architect of the goal, exchanging passes with Bobby Zamora before setting up Leroy Fer, whose shot flicked off Ben Mee, sliding in to cover, and over goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Redknapp barely bothered to applaud before turning back to the dugout.
The differences between the clubs extend to expectations. Dyche understands the logical consequences of budgetary restrictions in a world of conspicuous consumption, but resists the laws of probability. He will eke out the resources allocated to him, however meagre in relative terms.
Redknapp, on the other hand, still suggests it is business as usual. He spoke afterwards of using the January transfer window to “strengthen in one or two areas and give ourselves a real chance”. An improvement in their away form – they have scored only two goals and have secured no points – is essential.
Loftus Road is not Quality Street. QPR were especially guilty of wasting possession, passing with such a lack of precision it was as if they were blindfolded. They had due cause to be grateful to Green and Richard Dunne.
The old school central defender, who deflected Boyd’s driven cross away from Danny Ings, unmarked and waiting to apply the finishing touch for an equaliser at the far post, was ideally suited to the rearguard action required after Austin’s dismissal.
Booked for an initial lunge at Kieran Trippier, the striker left referee Jon Moss with little alternative when he caught Michael Keane with a flailing arm. That was just two minutes after his calm close range finish, following clever interplay on the right between the Chilean pair Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas, had appeared to make the game safe.
His Premier League future is secure, whatever fate has in store for his past and present employers.
QPR: (4-4-2) Green; Isla, Dunne, Caulker, Yun; Henry, Vargas (Mutch, 75), Barton, Fer (Phillips, 89); Zamora (Kranjcar, 65), Austin.
Burnley: (4-4-2) Heaton; Trippier, Keane, Shackell, Mee; Boyd, Jones (Jutkiewicz, 85), Marney, Arfield (Wallace, 74); Barnes (Sordell, 88), Ings.
Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the match: Dunne (QPR)
Match rating: 6/10
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