Football: Owen starts his long haul back in secret

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL OWEN scored on his Liverpool comeback yesterday - but left a question mark over his immediate return to big-time action.

The striker was on target in a 4-0 win by a strong Liverppool side against Crewe Alexandra at Melwood Training Ground, ending four months on the sidelines with a torn hamstring.

The Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, said: "Michael played two 25- minute periods in a match against Crewe's Under-19 side. I am pleased to say he has come through it OK after his first match for over four months."

But Owen came off for a rest as Houllier ensured he did not overtax himself. Owen is unlikely to be rushed into a full-scale return too soon. The teenager will not start against Arsenal on Saturday and may be kept on the bench at best.

With the pressure now off Houllier after the win at Leeds, there is no need to put Owen on the spot by forcing him to save Liverpool's season.

The England coach, Kevin Keegan, was hoping that Owen would get a first- team game and now faces a dilemma over whether to pick him for the squads to face Luxembourg and Poland.

The Owen return was kept a secret. The club claimed the game was today, but it was yesterday. The plan was to push Owen if there was an emergency. There were no spectators present, but one player revealed: "Michael looked short of full fitness. He has hardly kicked a ball since April. It was a good exercise, but he may not be ready for the next step yet."

Leicester City have been cleared of any impropriety over ticket sales for this year's Worthington Cup final - but some of their players are still under investigation.

The Foxes were beaten 1-0 by Tottenham, but sporadic fighting broke out among fans in the Leicester end of Wembley stadium, where Spurs fans had taken up seats allocated to the East Midlands club. Both the FA and the Football League are continuing their investigations into how Tottenham fans had obtained Leicester tickets.