Celtic chase Burnley star Austin

CELTIC have targeted 23-goal top-scorer Charlie Austin as a replacement for Gary Hooper.

Monday, 21st January 2013, 12:41 pm

But the 23-year-old is not expected to be enticed by the prospect of moving north of the border, should the Scottish Premier League champions be able to tempt the Turf Moor board to sell.

The club underlined their intent to hold onto the former Swindon Town frontman at last month’s annual general meeting, and do not need to sell.

There is yet to be a bid for Austin, who has generated interest from the Premier League.

But, with 18 months left on his current contract, the club could face a similar situation to that they faced last summer with Jay Rodriguez, who was sold to Southampton for £7m before entering the final year of his deal.

To that end, the club have held initial talks over a new contract, but it remains to be seen whether they can convince him to extend his stay.

Celtic have long been fans of Austin, and were in the hunt to sign him when he opted to join Burnley from Swindon in January 2011.

And the Hoops are expected to turn to Austin should Norwich persuade them to part company with Hooper, with a £6m bid in the offing, after Celtic turned down an initial £5m offer for the former Scunthorpe United hitman.

But Burnley will be desperate to hold on to Austin, especially after moving into seventh place in the Championship with the 2-0 win at Millwall on Saturday.

Austin is set to boost the push for a play-off place by returning to full fitness for Saturday’s home game with Birmingham City, after missing four matches with a hamstring problem.

Clarets boss Sean Dyche admits Burnley are very much in the chase for a play-off place after a third-successive league win.

But he accepts he may not have the funds to bolster the squad in January to give that push for the top six added impetus.

The gap to sixth place remains four points after Watford’s win over Huddersfield, but with 18 games remaining, Dyche is eager to take the challenge head on: “The challenge is to break into that top six.

“I would be very surprised if Cardiff don’t go and do it with the riches they have and the players they have - they have a group of real men and quality there.

“I saw Leicester on Friday night, another team rich in pocket and talent and depth of squad, and the rest...Hull are doing great and have a few quid and will probably sign.

“The others, I think it’s all in the shake-up - who’s going to get those points on the board?

“It’s a strange year because the three that came down are not quite performing, and normally one or two of the three are up there again.

“They can’t quite get that run going, so that’s strange, but it’s always topsy-turvy the Championship.

“We’re in the hunt, but we’ll take it a game at a time.”

Four wins in five Championship outings - with only one goal conceded in that time - has put the Clarets top of the pack chasing the top six, and Dyche is delighted with the way the players are responding.

While any manager would like the resources to go out and strengthen, the way the squad are producing means the need is lessened at present: “It’s good at the moment, the feelgood factor is certainly there, and the players are playing some really good stuff.

“We’ve won four out of five in the league, at at the moment, so in terms of bringing players in, who do you change?

“It’s not as simple as bringing somebody in, especially when we’ve got slightly limited resources - it can only be a certain level of player - but I think you’ve seen signs of a team willing to take on the challenge.

“It doesn’t mean it gets there, but they’re a willing group to take on the challenge of winning as many games as possible, and who knows where that can take you?

“We’re still obviously actively looking, but it will be right place at the right time for us, because we haven’t got the money to just throw around and sign whoever we like.”

Burnley have been without Austin for the last four games, while Ben Mee has been out for over a month, and the squad has stepped up to the plate in their absence, while Michael Duff also sat out Saturday with a hamstring problem: “Duffo just nicked his hamstring, he’s been struggling since last week, he missed a few days’ training and just felt a twinge on Friday, so we got him off quickly and we’re hoping it’s not major.”

Junior Stanislas also came off late in the game, but Dyche said: “Junior had a bit of cramp again, he’s come back in the side after a few games out, so obviously that real grounding of fitness comes from playing.

“He put in a good shift.”

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