CLARETS boss Eddie Howe has challenged Charlie Austin to vie for top-scorer with Jay Rodriguez in the last four games.
Austin netted his 15th and 16th of the season to see off Brighton and Doncaster over the Easter weekend.
And with 21-goal Jay Rodriguez expected to miss the rest of the season with a groin strain, Howe is eager to see how close his first signing Austin can run the Burnley-born forward.
Coventry City are next up at Turf Moor on Saturday, followed by a trip to Leicester, and the Clarets end the campaign with a derby at Blackpool and then a home clash with Bristol City.
Asked whether Austin can catch Rodriguez, Howe said: “I’m sure Charlie would say he’d like to.
“It’s just a shame Jay Rod got injured but it’s great competition.
“It was great when they were in the team together and they were fighting against each other.
“Charlie’s had his chance to claw back.
“It’s great to have young goalscorers in your squad.
“Hopefully him and Danny (Ings) will keep scoring as well.
“The future looks bright in that department.”
Austin’s return has been impressive in his first full season in the Championship, with his tally coming in 41 appearances, while his hat-trick at Portsmouth last week took him past a half-century of goals in less than three seasons in professional football, after joining Swindon from Poole Town.
Howe said: “It’s a very good return when you look at his starts. His ratio is up there with his strike rate at Swindon.
“His record speaks for itself.
“It’s a phenomenal record and we just hope he keeps it going.
“I think he’s really got his spark back.
“His hat-trick gave him a huge confidence boost.
“Him and Danny seem to really like playing with each other.
“The pair of them together were a real thorn in Brighton’s side.”
Howe is awaiting confirmation of the extent of Martin Paterson’s hamstring injury sustained last week at Portsmouth, having had a scan, while Ben Mee is also, along with Rodriguez, expected to miss the rest of the season with a fracture in his back – although Howe admitted the problem isn’t as nasty as it appears.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds.
“I think in two or three weeks hopefully he’ll be okay again.
“Whether or not he appears this season we’ll wait and see.”
With Andre Amougou, Zavon Hines – who scored for Bournemouth at Sheffield United on Saturday, Keith Treacy, Alex MacDonald and Kevin Long out on loan, and Brian Easton’s future lying elsewhere, Howe’s squad is down to the bare bones, but he has no qualms using members of the youth team, with Cameron Howieson, Steve Hewitt and Shay McCartan making debuts in the last week: “When I first took the job, I didn’t really know any of the players in the youth team.
“But at the beginning of this season I saw them play quite a lot and I remember speaking to a few people and saying ‘we’ve got a really talented group in the youth team this year’.
“The FA Youth Cup run didn’t really surprise me because of the quality in there – both first and second years.
“Sometimes you get a strong year but both years are very strong.
“I’m really pleased and it does bode well for the future.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on them or certain individuals because with the way the Championship is you don’t want to blood them too early and force pressure on them. You just want to ease them in and get them involved.
“I think the key thing for them is to train with us as much as they can.”