Fanfare for Austin but QPR history is not on his side

The return of Charlie Austin to QPR has been met with some understandable excitement by fans in addition to some ludicrously over-the-top coverage on the club’s social media channels.

Austin established himself as a folk hero following a memorable two-and-half-year spell in which he scored an outstanding 48 goals in 89 games – including 18 in the Premier League – before moving to Southampton midway through the 2015/16 season.

The 31-year-old insists he still has plenty left in the tank after joining on loan from West Brom, becoming the latest in a long line of players to return for a second spell in W12.

Austin will be included in the squad to face Luton on Tuesday with Rangers sitting just outside the Championship relegation zone – largely because of the struggles of Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne in front of goal.

Austin has battled injuries since his exit five years ago but did help West Brom to promotion last season when he chipped in with 10 goals in 34 games.

However, he’s only played six top-flight matches for West Brom since September – and failed to find the net.

A similar goal return to what he enjoyed in the Baggies’ promotion campaign would vindicate the decision to bring Austin back, but history does suggest it rarely works second time around for QPR greats.

QPR and returning heroes

While there have been some successful former prodigal sons, there are a longer list of players who have failed to recreate the heights of their earlier spells.

Clive Allen and Kevin Gallen, both outstanding graduates of the club’s youth system, are the two most successful and highest-profile returnees.

Allen’s 32 goals in 49 games between 1978-1980 saw him become the first million-pound teenager when Arsenal signed him, only to sell him to Crystal Palace a month later before he’d even kicked a ball for the Gunners.

His spell with the Eagles was a difficult one that lasted a single season, with Terry Venables bringing him back to Loftus Road for just £400,000 and he went on to enjoy a brilliant four years.

This was highlighted by the goal that carried Rangers to their first ever FA Cup final, in 1982, the old Second Division title a year later, and Allen into the England squad before he moved to Spurs in 1984.

Like Allen, Gallen burst onto the scene as teenager in 1994-95 Premier League campaign, forming a brilliant partnership with Les Ferdinand after making his debut against Manchester United on the opening day of the season when he had a goal controversially disallowed in a 2-0 defeat.

However, after some mixed seasons following a serious knee injury, he left to join Huddersfield in 2000, then Barnsley before returning just over a year later with the club languishing in League One, scoring on his second debut in a 4-0 win over Swindon.

Gallen helped fire Rangers back to the second tier in 2003 to establish himself as one of QPR’s favourite sons as the club emerged from one of the darkest spells in its history on a memorable day at Hillsborough with the opening goal in a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday – one of 97 goals he scored in Rangers colours.

Steve Wicks also enjoyed a stellar second spell after leaving for an ill-fated stint at Palace in 1981, returning under Venables less than a year later to become a key figure in the heart of defence for the next six years.

But that trio aside, the list of successes is slim.

Can Austin buck a trend?

Lee Cook helped keep Rangers in the Championship in the 2006/07 season, earning himself a move to Fulham.

But after a knee injury ravaged his Craven Cottage career, the winger was brought back to QPR in 2009 in scenes of adulation similar to that of Austin’s re-signing.

But he was never the same player and left in 2012 having made less than 50 appearances in three years.

It was similar story for Gerry Francis, one of QPR’s greatest-ever players, who followed the well-trodden path back to west London from Selhurst Park in 1981 only for a back injury to limit him to just 17 games in 18 months.

Gary Waddock, who Rangers forced to retire in 1987, only for the hugely-popular midfielder to pay back his insurance pay-off and enjoy successful spells in Belgium with Charleroi then Millwall, made an emotional return in 1991 after winning back his spot in the Republic of Ireland squad.

However, he never made another appearance for the club and drifted down the divisions to play almost 250 games for Swindon, Bristol Rovers and Luton.

Jamie Mackie, Dan Shittu and Ray Wilkins also played huge roles in their first stints at the club but never recaptured the success next time around.

Injuries and fitness could well dictate Austin’s second coming and on face value, the signing of an experienced and prolific goalscorer at both Championship and Premier League level, who is only in his early 30s, represents a huge coup for a struggling side.

But any notion that Rangers are getting the same player that was so brilliant for them half-a-decade ago is wide of the mark and there’s a huge expectancy on him to hit the ground running and get Rangers up the table.

If he can do it and fire the goals QPR so desperately need, then Austin has every right to etch his name alongside Allen, Gallen and true QPR goalscoring greats.