Michael Owen will have a scan today to discover whether he requires surgery to correct his stubborn groin injury, a development that will concern the England manager, Steve McClaren, as much as Newcastle's Sam Allardyce.
A grimacing Owen walked off slowly six minutes into the second half and Allardyce said afterwards that he was "worried" about his striker's pain. Owen is out of Newcastle's Carling Cup tie at Arsenal tomorrow and, with England's European Championship qualifier against Estonia at Wembley 19 days away, the striker is now a significant doubt for that.
"We'll know tomorrow on Michael," Allardyce said, "he still has a groin problem we've to look at a little deeper. It's persistent and so we'll have it scanned again and get another specialist opinion.
"He is still feeling a tightening in the groin area. We'll have to get a specialist's report now, not just a scan regarding that situation. But he's definitely out of Tuesday. I'm worried that he had to come off today because he felt it, whereas it was me who took him off at Derby [last Monday]."
Allardyce said "if it needs surgery" Newcastle will find "the best in the world" to perform the operation.
Surgery this week, for example, would leave Owen with three weeks to recover before England's second game of the Euro 2008 qualifying double-header, in Moscow against Russia – on an artificial pitch.
Allardyce is not unpatriotic, but Newcastle come before England. "We'll look after Michael Owen's interests first, and the club's – he is the most expensive asset. For me England does not come into the equation. If he needs an operation, he will have it straight away."
Speculation about Owen overshadowed a result that lifted Newcastle to fifth in the table, one that Allardyce described as "very satisfying". It also put what is possibly an equally bad injury to Claudio Cacapa in the shade.
Owen's presence on the pitch also meant that, just as when Wigan came here three weeks ago, the opposition's English centre-forward drew a sudden fascination. Then it was Emile Heskey, yesterday it was Dean Ashton.
The 23-year-old missed the whole of last season having broken his ankle in an England training session and has only played five times this term. Yet he scored West Ham's equaliser with a tidy finish and led the line with power and subtlety. Whether that makes him ready for a first England cap is another matter.
"In the last international break we gave him two reserve games," the West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley, said of Ashton, revealing just how far he was from England contention then. "But two weeks is a long time. We'll wait and see."
Ashton will need more support than he received in the second half here, that is certain. Admittedly, Curbishley lost former Newcastle players Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker to injury on Saturday, but that did not explain some flat-footed defending that allowed Mark Viduka to score his first Newcastle goal at St James' Park.
Lucas Neill and Anton Ferdinand were the culprits. Neill gave the ball away in the second minute and it came to the impressive Charles N'Zogbia. The young Frenchman bent in a fast cross that Viduka eyed gleefully. Ferdinand looked at it statically and the big Australian dived across the defender to place a flicked header just inside Robert Green's right post.
A bitty game played in a sometimes noiseless stadium then unfolded. With Mark Noble prominent, West Ham nibbled their way back and there was no surprise when Ashton equalised on 32 minutes. With Carlton Cole bustling his way around the Newcastle penalty area, Ashton got on the end of a Neill throw-in to beat Steve Harper comfortably.
That suggested a contest, yet less than 10 minutes later Viduka had his second, again N'Zogbia supplying the cross after breezing past Lee Bowyer.
After the interval, Owen limped off and Ashton was close with a backward flick. But Harper made a 72nd-minute save from Bowyer and four minutes later N'Zogbia slid in to meet a centre from Owen's replacement, Obafemi Martins.
The Nigerian then missed an open goal to make it 4-1. But no matter, Newcastle got the 1-0 defeat at Derby out of their system. Now, once again, it is all about Michael's.
Goals: Viduka (2) 1-0; Ashton (32) 1-1; Viduka (41) 2-1; N'Zogbia (76) 3-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Beye, Rozehnal, Cacapa (Taylor, 78) N'Zogbia; Smith, Geremi, Butt, Milner; Viduka (Enrique, 73) Owen (Martins, 51). Substi-tutes not used: Given (gk), Faye.
West Ham United (4-4-2) Green; Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney; Bowyer, Noble, Mullins (Ljungberg, 62) Etherington (Spector, 80); Cole (Camara, 68) Ashton. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Collins.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Newcastle Geremi; West Ham Mullins, Cole, Bowyer.
Man of the match: N'Zogbia.
Attendance: 50,104.Reuse content