Keegan and Ashley set for summit

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The Independent Football

Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan and owner Mike Ashley will face a defining moment in their respective reigns when they meet tomorrow.

The Newcastle manager and the man who appointed him will get together, along with executive director of football Dennis Wise, to discuss their efforts to take the club forward.

Of paramount importance to Keegan will be two issues: a progress report on the efforts of Wise and his recruitment team to provide him with the three or four players he feels he still needs to equip his squad for the challenges ahead, and news of the club's attempts to tie up star striker Michael Owen in a new contract.

While retaining Owen has been on the manager's agenda for some time, his situation is perhaps secondary.

Keegan is hopeful of persuading the England man to remain on Tyneside amid suggestions he will be asked to take a pay cut, and with other clubs able to talk to him in January as the final year of his existing deal runs down.

But time is not on Newcastle's side on the transfer front, with less than a week to go before the summer window closes.

There has been talk all summer that Ashley will not sanction wholesale spending, and it is perhaps significant that the fees they have handed over for their three captures to date - Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini and Danny Guthrie - remain undisclosed.

There has also been intense speculation over a series of targets, some more realistic than others.

Keegan has already had his disappointments. He tried to hijack Jonathan Woodgate's move to Tottenham within days of his return to the club, and was also beaten to Luka Modric's signature by the North Londoners at the end of last season.

He also got a negative response from Anton Ferdinand earlier in the summer, and the West Ham defender's presence at Sunderland for a medical today will not have improved his mood.

But as Wise and vice-president for player recruitment Tony Jimenez go about their business, the names keep coming - Rennes midfielder Stephane Mbia and Udinese's Gokhan Inler, the latter of whom has been mentioned on several occasions over the last few months, were again linked to the Magpies today.

Keegan confirmed after Saturday's 1-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Bolton that he was still looking for at least a defender, a midfielder and a striker, and that list could increase should the club decide to cash in on any of their current players.

Aston Villa's pursuit of James Milner has been relentless, while Everton have been monitoring Alan Smith's situation, and the manager will want to know where Ashley stands on both counts having insisted he wants to keep both men on board.

But the owner will have other concerns too.

He was among a crowd of 47,711 for the Bolton game and will have been acutely aware of the 5,000 or so empty seats and vacant executive boxes.

Keegan suggested the time of year and the current credit crunch might have taken their toll, but rising season-ticket prices, promises of greater financial control and a lack of high-profile signings may provide a more accurate explanation.

The money the club has invested in new players to date nevertheless appears to have been well spent, and a return of four points from two games is encouraging and gives the former England boss the ammunition to argue his case in front of the money men.

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