The 31-year-old continued his transformative impact since re-signing for the club on loan from West Brom in January with the winning goal as the Rs came from behind to beat Brentford 2-1 in the Championship and secure their first west London derby victory since November 2018.
When Austin, already a hero in these parts for his role in the 2014 promotion, arrived, Rangers had gone nine league games without a win and Mark Warburton was supposedly on the brink. Since then, they’ve won five of their six matches to pull eight points clear of the drop, and it is Brentford who are experiencing their own wobble – albeit a less serious one – having suffered back-to-back defeats at the end of a 21-game unbeaten run.
The big freeze had given QPR the rare luxury of an 11-day break since their last fixture and Warburton took the opportunity to named an unchanged side to the one that had started the 1-0 win over Blackburn.
Thomas Frank, on the other hand, took Sunday’s defeat to Barnsley as the cue to freshen things up, bringing in Tariqe Fosu and restoring Mathias Jensen to midfield, while handing Winston Reid his full debut following his January signing from West Ham.
Reid’s last league start in English football had come back in March 2018 – eight months before the Rs last tasted victory in this fixture – but the 32-year-old looked largely assured at centre-back alongside Mads Sorensen as Brentford showed signs of eradicating the kind of slow starts that had been punctuating their performances even prior to the Barnsley loss. Indeed, they should have gone ahead as early as the fifth minute, but Fosu showed little conviction meeting a back-post cross after smart link-up between Jensen and Rico Henry down the left.
In the end, it took until the half-hour mark for the breakthrough to arrive, Ivan Toney sharpest across the front post to flick the Jensen’s free-kick into the far corner for his 24th goal of the season.
Like so many before them in the Championship this season, all three QPR centre-backs had struggled to get to grips with the division’s top scorer, and they were on the end of a rollocking from their own centre-forward, Austin, after an isolated and outnumbered Toney was somehow allowed to seize control of a high, hoofed clearance.
Only help from in front of them stopped Toney doubling the lead before the break, Dom Ball tracking superbly to cut out Fosu’s square pass on the counter, but one of the struggling trio, former Bee Yoann Barbet, almost levelled on the stroke of half-time, denied by a sharp David Raya save.
Another corner nearly brought the hosts a leveller soon after the restart, Ilias Chair’s delivery clipping the bar after almost catching Raya out. Stefan Johansen also threatened with a long-range free-kick as Warburton’s side enjoyed their best spell of the game, Australian-born striker Lyndon Dykes – still without a league goal since the reverse fixture almost three months ago – trying to make New Zealander Reid’s evening a little more taxing with some feisty aerial duels.
On 74 minutes, the home side got the equaliser that their second-half performance deserved as the game’s main protagonists, Austin and Toney, challenged in the Bees’ box before a poor clearing header from the usually-reliable Henry allowed substitute Sam Field – also on loan from West Brom – to flash home on his debut.
Four minutes later, the turnaround was complete as Lee Wallace’s cut-back eventually found Austin to steer home and spark as jubilant a scene as you can hope to see in a football stadium in 2021.
Toney threatened to wrestle the narrative back, seemingly poised to race in on goal when hauled down by Geoff Cameron, who may have been fortunate not to see red, but it was Austin’s night and the fairytale of his return is very much still being written.