MIDFIELDER Brian Stock reluctantly believes the Clarets face a battle to keep star striker Charlie Austin at Turf Moor in the New Year.
October’s nPower Championship player of the month, who fended off competition from Peterborough’s George Boyd and Blackburn Rovers defender Grant Hanley to land the accolade, has already caught the eye of several Premier League clubs after hitting 20 goals in all competitions.
Speculation has linked Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa and Reading as suitors for the 23-year-old who led Europe’s goalscoring charts until Lionel Messi surpassed his tally with a brace in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Zaragoza at the weekend.
The former bricklayer, has been in phenomenal form to date, breaking a host of club records during the opening months of the season. His late winner against Leeds United saw him reach the 20-goal mark in 17 games - achieving the landmark in fewer appearances from the start of a season than any other player in the club’s decorated history.
That 83rd minute header also equalled a post-war club record set by forward Peter McKay who scored in sixth successive matches on home turf in 1955. Earlier in the season, in the 4-3 victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate last month, Austin equalled another Clarets record when netting in his eighth consecutive outing, a feat cemented by Ray Pointer during the 1958/59 campaign. But there’s still another target for the one-time Swindon Town hitman to pursue as Jimmy Robson fired 26 goals by the end of the year, rounding it off with two goals in a 5-3 home win against Newcastle United on New Year’s Eve, 1960.
Stock is adamant that his team-mate’s achievements so far will undoubtedly attract interest from other clubs when the mid-season transfer window swings open in January.
“Charlie Austin has obviously got 20 goals this season,” said Stock. “He’s a great player, fantastic finisher, he’s great for the team, and I thought today (against Charlton) was probably one of the best games I’ve seen him play. His hold up play and the way he battles is something money can’t buy. When he adds goals to the rest of that then you’ve got yourself a Premier League player.” Stock added: “I think they’d be mad not to look at him really. As a team mate I don’t want to see him leave.
Charlie scores goals and is a match-winner but it’s his all round game I like. His hold up play, the way he fights with defenders and I’m sure those two centre-halves (Leon Cort and Michael Morrison) will have left that pitch knowing they’ve been in one hell of a game against the one striker. I’m sure there’ll be interest in him because you don’t score 20 goals and not get interest. I was really impressed with how he fought for the ball and you can’t fault that sort of attitude.”
Meanwhile, Stock has lauded the unity of the squad since manager Sean Dyche was introduced as Eddie Howe’s successor. The 30-year-old insists the Clarets have formed a tighter bond, harbouring an abundance of fight and desire, shown in the display against Charlton Athletic.
“Since the manager came in he’s installed a great attitude,” Stock said. “Whatever gets thrown at us we need to run through that wall for the fans and I think today really showed that. After having a man sent off, everyone’s heads were up and we responded in a very positive manner. The manager was delighted with how we did.
“We definitely feel tighter. I believe in everything he says, the lads are buying in to everything, training is very high tempo, and the manner in which he wants us to press as a team is something I’ve not been around for quite a while now and it’s something I’m enjoying. Going down to 10 men so early in the game kind of took that gameplan out of the window but we adapted very well and saw the game out as best we could.
“If we can build on the heart, passion and commitment from that display then it will stand us in very good stead for the season. There’s a great atmosphere in the dressing room, everyone gets on well, we’re all united, and that’s something I’ve not been around for a few years now.”
Stock found his opportunities restricted under Howe, making just two league starts, but the midfielder has played an integral role in reversing Burnley’s defensive fortunes. In the seven games he’s played since being drafted in to the starting XI by caretaker boss Terry Pashley against Blackpool, the Clarets have kept three clean sheets.
The former Doncaster Rovers man said: “Ironically, since Eddie left, I’ve had a really good run in the team. It’s something that I’ve been trying hard to do, even when the previous manager was here. I had to bide my time, I’ve got as fit as I can, I’ve been injury free for quite a long time now, so I want to keep on and stay in the team as long as I can.
“I was confident in my own ability. The manager’s come in, he’s got some great ideas, he’s terrific in terms of man management and getting the lads together, and the style of how he wants to play football fits in with the way I want to play as well. It’s great for me and the most important thing is that I’m really enjoying my football. I love playing and it’s been a good last few weeks for me.”
Stock added: “I’m happy with how things have gone. We’ve kept quite a few clean sheets in that time but it’s been a whole team effort, it’s not just been my individual contribution. The lads have really come together, especially since the new manager has come in. Terry Pashley did a great job in getting the lads together and getting the results and we’ve built on that. Although we lost the game against Charlton we can take a lot of credit from our performance.”
Consecutive defeats have seen the Clarets slip to 15th in the Championship, five points from the play-off places, but Stock has voiced a top six push as a realistic target for the campaign. “I think we can definitely push on for the top six,” insisted Stock. “I’m adamant of that because I believe in every single player within the squad. I’ve seen some really good stuff. I’ve played the game for quite a number of years now and I’ve never been involved in such a united squad. The ability that goes with that will stand us in really good stead in the Championship.”
And the Welshman is keen to contribute to that ambition, by chipping in with a few goals. Stock hasn’t scored since the start of October last year in Doncaster’s 2-1 win away at Peterborough, with 37 outings elapsing since then.