West Ham manager Slaven Bilic says Southampton striker Charlie Austin would have been an asset to his side, had the former QPR striker made the move to Upton Park instead of St Mary’s Stadium.
Austin made the switch to the south coast in January for a reported fee of just £4 million and is set to return from a minor knock to feature against West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday.
The 26-year-old was heavily linked with West Ham in the close-season but, when co-chairman David Sullivan questioned his fitness and quality, Austin responded angrily to what he described as “inaccurate, misleading and uninformed innuendo”.
Austin marked his Saints debut with the winner against Manchester United and Bilic was surprised at the price Southampton got their man for.
But the West Ham boss, who could welcome back Andy Carroll from a hamstring injury and hand new striker Emmanuel Emenike a debut, maintains he is happy with his attacking options.
“He’s a great player and he’s not someone who has done it in the Championship and there is a question mark over him,” said Bilic, who remains without Diafra Sakho (thigh) and Manuel Lanzini (groin).
“He has done it in the Premier League, he scored many goals in a team that got relegated. To get him for that money should be a great buy.
“And he scored the winner in his first game at Old Trafford so it’s a flying start and I was a little bit surprised that he went for that kind of money, which in England is a small transfer.
“He is a good player and would definitely have enough quality to play for West Ham but also most teams in the Premier League.
“We had different targets, we have really good strikers and we were looking for a different sort of player. That’s the reason, not anything to do with his quality.”
Five points separate West Ham in sixth from seventh-placed Southampton, with the former beating Aston Villa in midweek while Ronald Koeman’s men claimed a creditable draw at Arsenal.
With 10 points from their last four outings, Southampton’s poor end to 2015 seems a distant memory and they will be eager to avenge their 2-1 defeat at Upton Park in December.
Koeman told the club’s official website: “I think the confidence [in the team] is back and we have a lot of competition. That makes the team stronger… but now we have a home game against West Ham United.
“We were a little bit unlucky against them away. We were the better team and maybe deserved more. Maybe Arsenal deserved a little bit more. They had enough chances, but that’s football sometimes – it’s not so easy to explain.”
Key Opta stats:
– Southampton have won just one of the last eight Premier League games with West Ham.
– Fraser Forster has saved all 12 shots he has faced in his four Premier League appearances since his comeback from injury and is yet to concede a goal in these matches.
– The Hammers have lost just one of their last 11 Premier League games, winning four, drawing six and losing one.
– Enner Valencia has been directly involved in five of West Ham’s last seven goals in the Premier League, scoring four and assisting another.
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