AFTER a false start at Turf Moor, striker Charlie Austin is showing Burnley fans what he is all about.
The 22-year-old has scored goals at every level, but suffered a cruel blow after only four outings for the club after completing a £1.2m move from Swindon, when he suffered a dislocated shoulder in training, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
However, as he takes to life in the Championship, he has started his first full season with the Clarets with a bang, with three goals in four appearances.
And aside from the goals – one lucky, one brilliant and one a predatory effort – his all-round game caught the eye against Cardiff, before his afternoon was curtailed just after the hour following an agricultural challenge from Anthony Gerrard that earned a booking, and could have been worse for the former Accrington Stanley centre-back.
The Hungerford-born striker was full of beans in his first league start of the campaign – a real handful.
He was Johnny on the spot to head Kieren Trippier’s second-minute cross back the way it came, inside the near post.
And buoyed by that early fillip, he terrorised City’s back four.
A smart turn moments later sent Dean Marney clear on goal, and despite being brought down by Gerrard, erratic – to be kind – referee Tony Bates was having none of it.
Austin headed over another Trippier cross, and forced a smart stop from David Marshall with an audacious half volley from 30 yards, showing his confidence level. He was involved with all Burnley did well in the first half – bringing Trippier and the wide players Ross Wallace and Keith Treacy into play with crisp lay-offs, harrying and hassling defenders, winning flick-ons, combining well with Jay Rodriguez, and generally causing havoc.
So much so, Gerrard took the law into his own hands, clattering him off the pitch to earn a yellow card, and give Austin two dead calf muscles.
Burnley weren’t quite as potent a threat from there on in, while Cardiff continued to get away with some downright cynical challenges, allowed to get away with murder by a weak official in Bates.
Kevin McNaughton was booked for a late lunge on Treacy, who was then stopped in his tracks illegally by Mark Hudson, who also saw yellow.
It seemed every time a Burnley player broke past a Cardiff opponent he was brought down, pulled back, clipped, or clattered.
The “challenge” from Gerrard on Austin brought Malky Mackay out of his technical area and seemed to further fire up his troops, and just before half-time the Bluebirds scored a goal out of nowhere which knocked the stuffing out of Burnley.
Rodriguez appeared to be fouled, but play continued and the ball fell kindly for Andrew Taylor, whose centre was finished typically clinically by Robert Earnshaw – his 200th career goal.
It was City’s only opening of note in the first half, after being outplayed – too often Cardiff went from back to front, mopped up easily by the returning Michael Duff and Ben Mee.
Burnley had played with real menace and intent, cleverly creating openings down either flank, particularly down the right with lung-busting overlaps from Trippier.
However, while staying on the front foot after the break, they were unable to work Marshall enough, while Cardiff looked happy with their point.
Wallace, in impish mood, sent a 25-yarder just wide of the far post, before a cross-field pass gave Treacy chance to cut inside McNaughton, and when his shot was deflected, Rodriguez appeared to be brought down – although further viewing suggested he was already on his way down before contact was made.
New signing Zavon Hines replaced Austin and was another positive – lively and direct – but chances remained at a premium.
The best of them came with just over 10 minutes remaining from another well-worked situation out wide – Wallace back heeling for Brian Easton, whose cross was glanced just wide by skipper Chris McCann. Marshall was beaten, and substitute Wade Elliott was also eyeing up the chance, but agonisingly that was the closest Burnley came.
The Clarets still search for that first league win after three attempts, but this was the most encouraging display so far – full of invention and energy, in the first half in particular, while the side persisted after the break against a stubborn side showing little ambition.
If there is any complaints, it is that Burnley aren’t working opposition goalkeepers enough for all their possession and chances, while they are being punished for any lapses at the back – it is now 16 games since a clean sheet going back to last season.
And Eddie Howe would love a bit of luck on the injury front, with new signing Danny Ings suffering cartilage damage having yet to kick a ball for the club.
But the players have shown enough encouragement that the first three points is on its way.
The cup is first up on Tuesday night against Portsmouth’s conquerors Barnet, but Saturday promises an interesting afternoon at Derby, who boast a 100% record, but have a 4-2 defeat against the Clarets at Pride Park in April fresh in the memory.