(Reuters) - Southampton’s Charlie Austin is back to help their relegation battle but his team mates must take the scoring burden off the fit-again striker if Saints are to stay in the Premier League.
Despite starting just six league games all season, Austin remains Southampton’s top scorer in the league on seven goals.
Austin’s goals have come from 728 minutes of football, with no other Saints player netting more than four goals to date.
Southampton’s other strikers — Manolo Gabbiadini, Shane Long and Guido Carrillo — have only six goals between them in just under 3000 Premier League minutes.
With Saints sitting four points from the safety zone with four games to play, manager Mark Hughes desperately needs his forwards to find their form.
After a slow start to the season in which Austin struggled to get in the starting team, he scored five goals in five league starts before picking up a ban and a hamstring injury before Christmas which kept him out until the end of March.
The chances kept coming for Southampton’s other strikers, but the goals failed to follow.
Only seven Premier League teams have had more shots at goal, and only seven have created more chances than Southampton this season, yet double that number have more goals to their name. As a result, Saints have the worst shot conversion rate in the top division.
There has been encouragement in recent 3-2 league defeats by Arsenal and Chelsea. Austin came off the bench in both, scoring at The Emirates.
“Last week I didn’t see a path to safety but I do now,” Austin said after the Arsenal loss two weeks ago. “We have to go to war now.”
Austin will hope his attitude transfers to his team mates. Carrillo has yet to score since joining the club for 19 million pounds ($26.5 million) in January, while Gabbiadini and Long have just two goals between them since early January.
Southampton’s next opponents on Saturday are south-coast rivals Bournemouth, who have kept one clean sheet in their last 25 matches in all competitions.
“We’ve just got to really go for it and we’re heading towards a situation where we can’t hold back,” Hughes said last week. “At some point we’ll have to throw the kitchen sink at it.”
However, they cannot rely on Austin alone and his misfiring team mates need to find their scoring boots - fast.
($1 = 0.7178 pounds)
Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge