Magpies keep faith with Owen to regain form for vital games

Dowie stresses striker's enduring qualities in aiding Newcastle's relegation fight

The Newcastle United manager, Alan Shearer, will not dispense with the services of leading striker Michael Owen as the season reaches its decisive phase. The 29-year-old is without a goal since 10 January, and he has rarely looked like adding to his season's tally of 10 goals since his return from injury against Arsenal at the end of last month. Owen did not have a single meaningful opportunity in front of the watching England manager, Fabio Capello, who has not included him in his recent plans, during Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Tottenham.

However, amid speculation that the former Liverpool and Real Madrid player could pay the price for his goal drought in Monday's must-win Premier League match with Portsmouth, Shearer's assistant Iain Dowie has leapt to Owen's defence.

"Michael's goal record stands up to scrutiny with anybody," he said. "He is used to this. People only talk about him when he doesn't score. We didn't get a lot of opportunities in the game at Tottenham, apart from the one from Obafemi Martins in the closing stages.

"Michael has worked his socks off in all three games we have played. His work rate is fantastic and he has covered so much ground. He's doing all the things that are right and one thing is certain – if chances come his way, he scores. We know that Michael has quality in abundance. In training this week and last week, he has come up with finishes that other strikers simply can't do."

After a poor first half at White Hart Lane, Newcastle belatedly found their feet and, with the introduction of Martins and Mark Viduka, might have snatched a point from the game.

However, while Martins and Viduka made a difference, they were helped by the fact that the whole team performed markedly better after the break to put Spurs under greater pressure.

Shearer knows all about the weight associated with being cast in the role of main goalscoring threat, and made a habit of answering his critics in the best possible way. Many of the 206 goals he scored for the Magpies came after he was sensationally dropped by Ruud Gullit for the infamous derby with Sunderland in August 1999, while he managed 30 strikes in 63 appearances for his country despite going through a barren patch in the run-up to the Euro '96 finals in England.

Dowie said: "It's almost a British thing now, we like to knock our great goalscorers. All Michael needs to know is that he's got the faith of his team-mates and the staff here. That's the key element, and he knows it and feels it. Alan knows the game in terms of being where Michael is now. Alan was there himself. We are very happy with him. We know he can pop up when people are least expecting it.

"He knows how to deal with pressure – he's lived in the 'goldfish bowl' all his life. But he just gets on with his business."

Shearer has not ruled out unleashing all three of his main strikers on Pompey at once, although with Martins nursing a groin problem, Viduka only just back from his long-standing Achilles problem and Andy Carroll having impressed in recent weeks, the manager has decisions to make.

The forgotten midfielder Ignacio Gonzalez could yet have a part to play before the campaign is out, having returned to training after his own Achilles injury. The Uruguay international, whose controversial arrival on loan at the end of the summer transfer window in part prompted the then manager Kevin Keegan's departure, has made just two brief appearances as a substitute for the club since.

Comments