Newcastle Utd 1 Bolton Wanderers 0: Owen rises above Newcastle's mediocrity

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The Independent Football

The only goal may have been scored by Michael Owen to help Newcastle build upon the draw at Manchester United last Sunday, ensuring the feelgood factor will remain for another week, but few at St James' Park will dispute that this team and this club are a work in progress.

Moderate levels of creativity on the pitch revealed that, and empty seats, 5,000 of them, illustrated that owner Mike Ashley's failure to articulate his vision for the club has had an effect on season tickets, as had been rumoured.

Difficulties with a new sales system, and the economy, have not helped but it is perhaps no bad thing to have ballooning Tyneside expectation punctured with two doses of reality. Newcastle could easily have lost this and the stayaways would have felt justified indeed.

Had the Bolton captain Kevin Nolan been in top form, he might have scored a hat-trick. As it was he missed two good chances during a tense last few minutes for the hosts. Nolan had already had a penalty well saved by Newcastle keeper Shay Given.

That was in the 59th minute, five minutes after Owen had replaced Obafemi Martins. Steven Taylor was the culprit, his outstretched forearm cushioning Gretar Steinsson's right-flank cross. There were no complaints.

Nolan's strike was not uncertain but Given got down low to his left to parry and then hoofed away the rebound as he lay on the turf with Nolan closing in. The game had its turning point.

Twelve minutes later, 12 minutes in which Newcastle continued to cross the ball poorly from good positions on the wing, a home player finally got his delivery correct. It was substitute Geremi, popping up on the left to curl in a high ball with his right foot.

As soon as Geremi made contact, Owen was off. With Bolton's otherwise tight-knit back four watching, Owen floated free to nod past Jussi Jaaskelainen and once again make the difference. Considering that Owen and the club have contractual discussions on Wednesday, his timing was good on two fronts.

"I think we'll keep him," Keegan said of Owen, "I'm not going to labour the point. He was 75 per cent today, but I looked at the bench and he said 'Give me a long warm-up.' Twenty seconds later I put him on and we won a game that we never looked like we were going to win."

Keegan's honesty was more refreshing than Newcastle's midfield creativity. Dennis Wise, sitting beside Ashley, still has recruitment work to do. For Gary Megson the disappointment was deep. He had seen his well-drilled side, confident from their defeat of Stoke, frustrate Newcastle. When Nolan had his penalty, Megson must have been thinking of two games, six points.

But Given saved and Megson said: "The penalty completely changed things, it changed the atmosphere in the ground and gave every Newcastle player an extra step. We were OK, not scintillating – like Newcastle. I feel we had enough opportunities to win the game." Losing Johan Elmander after 15 minutes hardly helped Bolton, but Gavin McCann's introduction gave them added depth in midfield, where Newcastle's James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia were guilty of wasting positive situations.

Keegan's ire in the dugout could be seen and heard. When Martins squandered a 51st-minute free header, Keegan held his head. Martins soon held his groin and had to come off. On came Owen and Newcastle might have scored another header after his, Milner missing from close range.

That was in front of many of the empty seats. "Sometimes people think football can sail on," Keegan said of the credit crunch, "but it's vulnerable."