Newcastle United 2 Fulham 0: Owen central to Keegan's strategy after triggering the 'big relaunch'

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The Independent Football

It would be misleading to report that after one win, albeit Kevin Keegan's first, that Newcastle United are as a club and a team on the verge of resurrection, but with their owner, Mike Ashley, declaring his loyalty to Keegan in the boardroom and the manager then addressing Michael Owen's contractual status, this felt like a day when Newcastle could at last start thinking about the future. That "big relaunch" the first-team coach, Terry McDermott, spoke of a fortnight ago felt more credible on Saturday.

"I just can't wait to get to the summer and then sit down and talk with Kevin about what we need to take the club forward," Ashley said. He speaks so rarely in public this was worth recording. The journalist Ashley spoke to, from the News of the World, was sitting beside him in the directors' box. All sorts of novelty.

Downstairs on Keegan's floor the manager talked to the rest of the press and was ahead of Ashley's timetable. Assessing Owen's performance, his value to the team as captain and the 15 months left on his contract at St James' Park, Keegan said: "I've already started to say to the club that we should be talking to Michael now, not next week, not next month, but now. The time to talk with him is now and that's what I'll be urging the chairman to do.

"There hasn't been a reaction yet. I only mentioned it last week, because I could see this coming. Michael's not going to stop scoring goals, he's not going to stop catching the eye and Michael is going to be wanted by other clubs. I don't think that, whatever finances are there, we'll go out and get a player that's any better than Michael Owen."

Keegan admitted that as England manager he did not appreciate the depth of Owen's qualities but so enthused was he on Saturday that Keegan started talking "total football".

"I remember Johan Cruyff saying to me once: 'When I'm playing well, Johan Neeskens is the soldier and I'm the general. But if ever I have a day when I feel I'm not playing well, I say to Johan, you be the general and I'll be the soldier.' Michael has been both a general and a soldier for us since I've been here."

Owen's display against Fulham was hardly worthy of Cruyff comparisons, but there was a simplicity and tenacity to it that was convincing.

A dreadful miss from six yards in the 36th minute would have hung over Owen had Newcastle not won, and the urgency of debate about contracts would have been reduced, but Owen continued to forage in a new withdrawn No 10 role and deservedly got his second goal in a week seven minutes from time.

That brought a wave of reassurance over St James' and a fresh sense of calm to the dugout and dressing room.

Newcastle could still do with a strong, direct message of stability from Ashley, however. He reportedly lost £129m on the Stock Exchange last week at a time when there were further rumours regarding Keegan's position, plus the recruitment of a new chief scout in Lil Fuccillo – thought not to be a Keegan appointment – and while some say structural affairs do not infringe upon players' thoughts, in Mark Viduka Newcastle have a man who will vouch for the opposite.

"I was involved in what happened at Leeds United," Viduka said. "It was a situation where nobody knew what was going on, so it did affect performances."

Did he feel Newcastle could be another Leeds? "Yes. You've got to think like that because the situation we are in isn't the best."

But it has got better with four points in six days and another four might be enough to guarantee safety.

Newcastle were ponderous in some of their play but after Viduka's early strike, there were chances to crush a bland Fulham. Newcastle lack the confidence, and the pace, to do that just now.

For Fulham there needs to be an improvement. Derby, Sunderland and Reading are their next three opponents. Fulham probably need to win all three to survive in the top flight and Jimmy Bullard is central to their hopes. Otherwise, the next time Fulham head this way it could be to Carlisle in the Championship.

Goals: Viduka (6) 1-0; Owen (83) 2-0.

Newcastle United (4-3-3) Harper; Beye (Edgar, 87), Taylor, Faye, Enrique; Geremi, Butt, Barton; Owen, Viduka (Smith, 84), Martins (N'Zogbia, 74). Substitutes not used: Forster (gk), Carroll.

Fulham (4-4-2) Keller; Stalteri (Healy, 84), Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Andreasen, Murphy (Volz, 71), Bullard, Davies; McBride (Dempsey, 66), Johnson Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Bocanegra.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Fulham Volz.

Man of the match: Owen.

Attendance: 52,293.

For Capello's notebook

Michael Owen A different role in the hole showed Owen's versatility. It will be harder against international opposition but a nippy goal was a reminder of Owen's qualities.