Football: No early verdict on Owen injury

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL OWEN is still waiting to discover whether his season is over after suffering a hamstring injury at Leeds on Monday night.

The Liverpool striker has undergone a hospital scan to establish if there is tendon damage amid fears he could be ruled out for the rest of the season, missing England's friendly against Hungary in Budapest on 28 April. Owen pulled up as he raced on to Steve McManaman's through ball at Elland Road and fell to the floor clutching the back of his right leg.

The Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, is concerned, because Owen suffered the same injury at Derby a month ago. "We took him off as a precaution," Houllier said. "It maybe doesn't look as bad as we first thought, although it could be damage on the tendon."

Owen's injury is a further blow to Liverpool's Uefa Cup hopes after Robbie Fowler was given a six-game ban by the Football Association for an incident involving the Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux and his goal celebration in the Merseyside derby, when he pretended to snort cocaine.

"To lose Michael and Robbie at the same time does give us a real problem," admitted Houllier, who will look to their German international, Karlheinz Riedle, to step in to the breach for the season's run-in.

Fowler has not yet appealed against his six-game suspension and pounds 32,000 fine, but has until 23 April to do so.

Despite Fowler's disciplinary brushes with the FA, Kevin Keegan, the England coach, will not be under pressure to drop him from the England squad for the friendly with Hungary. Because of fitness doubts over Owen and Chris Sutton already ruled out for the rest of the season with a groin problem, Fowler could even make the starting line-up. Keegan may well prefer Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, who played against Poland last month, to develop their strike partnership before the Euro 2000 qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria in June.

Although some FA councillors may feel that Fowler's indiscipline should count against him, there will be no official request made to Keegan to omit the striker, although his ban may leave him short of match practice for the Euro qualifiers in June. In the past, players undergoing lengthy domestic suspensions would have automatically been ruled out of international games.

The FA's spokesman, Steve Double, said: "Domestic suspensions mean just that. Players remain available for any possible international call-ups."

However, with Owen and Sutton missing, Keegan will be looking for another two strikers to increase his options up front. Tottenham's Chris Armstrong was the player called up as a late replacement for the Poland game, with his club-mate Les Ferdinand suffering from a slight injury problem.

Emile Heskey, though, should also feature if judged fit after back problems, while Paul Merson returned to first-team action for Aston Villa with a sparkling substitute's display against Southampton last weekend.

The Football Association will be asking for an explanation from the Leeds United manager, David O'Leary, following his comments last night about an alleged bet placed on the outcome of the Premiership title race.

Following the goalless draw between O'Leary's side and Liverpool at Elland Road on Monday night, the Leeds manager, was asked who would win the Premiership and said: "I've got pounds 100 on Manchester United, so I'd better stick with them." The Irishman yesterday explained his comment was a light-hearted aside, saying "If people can't take jokes... "

If the FA pursues the matter, the onus will be on them to prove that O'Leary did have a bet, which is not allowed.