Newcastle Utd 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Owen lifts club and country as late strike sinks 10-man Wigan

Marksman bags Newcastle's first home League goal since February to earn win
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The Independent Online

Michael Owen said this week that he was born to score goals. Because of that he was also born to please his managers. Hence yesterday, three minutes from the end of an afternoon of hitherto personal frustration for Owen, Sam Allardyce and the again-present England man-ager, Steve McClaren, Owen made one of those near-post runs that he has made a million times. Wigan's Emmerson Boyce was with him but Owen sneaked that fraction of a yard ahead to meet a sweet centre from Obafemi Martins with a nod of the forehead. On the Wigan line, Chris Kirkland was beaten and Owen, Allardyce and McClaren were beaming.

This was the sort of finish with which Owen made his name. It was his first in the League for 20 months and Newcastle United's first in the League here for nearly 11 hours stretching back to February. Allardyce will be happy to put that particular statistic to bed.

The goal and the result meant that Newcastle go into the inter-national break unbeaten under Allardyce, and while this was not a thrilling performance, it was durable and competent. There was also a clean sheet for Newcastle, the third in five games under Allardyce. They have eight points, sit fifth in the table and, as Allardyce said: "We're nowhere near our best."

Plenty would agree, because while all the points Allardyce made were valid, yesterday's victory was achieved against an impressive Wigan side reduced to 10 men for all but 30 seconds of the second half.

Kevin Kilbane was the playerdismissed by referee Steve Bennett for an accidental clash of heads with Alan Smith that only Bennett viewed as aggressive. "The ref said he [Kilbane] led with the arm," Wigan's manager, Chris Hutchings, said later. The scale of Hutchings' disbelief matched his disappointment. Kilbane had been booked earlierfor a foul on Steven Taylor.

"I'm delighted with the boys' rearguard action after that," Hutchings added. "I thought we'd hold out and I thought we deserved to. But Michael Owen, well, he always gets his chance."

In fact Owen had a few chances and it was his failure to take either of two inviting ones in the first half that provoked the increasing sense of frustration around the stadium. His late intervention meant relief for all but especially Allardyce.

He placed the win in the context of the sweeping change at Newcastle. "I've torn the place apart in three months," Allardyce said of nine incoming players, 12 departures and boardroom and backroom revolution.

On Friday, Allardyce finally concluded his buying of players with the Marseille captain, Habib Beye. Beye was introduced to the crowd before kick-off. Just under eight minutes after it, Owen was bearing down on Kirkland having been released by Mark Viduka. Owen's shot was precise but Kirkland got a fingertip on it.

Owen was selected ahead of the dropped Martins and Allardyce also picked Steve Harper ahead of Shay Given, which will not delight the Irishman. But in the 19th minute Harper made a fine save from a Jason Koumas free-kick. Harperfollowed that up with one from the returning Antoine Sibierski.

Another returning player, Titus Bramble, did well and made some significant tackles, not least two penalty-box blocks on Viduka and Owen. But Bramble will also have been relieved when a 22nd-minute miscontrol led to the ball striking his hand.

Wigan got away with that but six minutes later, after another defensive slip, it seemed Owen would punish them. Andreas Granqvist missed a high ball and Owen was suddenly free 12 yards out, but he merely lobbed the ball over the bar.

Taylor then rattled it with a header, but after Kilbane's dismissal Wigan retreated. Newcastle found that hard to deal with. There were half-chances for Nicky Butt and the substitute Shola Ameobi, but it was Martins who ultimately made the difference when he appeared for Smith. Running on to Taylor's smart pass, Martins delivered the ball that Owen metwith instinct.

"Steve will be quietly confident about Michael's fitness," Allardyce said of McClaren. "Michael looks good enough for the qualifiers."

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