Owen on target to return before end of season

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Newcastle striker Michael Owen is not giving up hope of playing again this season. The 26-year-old, who signed a four-year deal when he clinched his £17m move from Real Madrid last year, has managed only 10 starts for Newcastle as first a fractured metatarsal and then a knee injury he suffered in England's World Cup clash with Sweden in June sidelined him. But he insists he is working hard to regain his fitness and thinks the start of next year could be decisive in his quest to play again this campaign.

He said last night: "I've been here for more than a year but I've only managed to play 10 games. I want to get back playing again - but I'm still in the gym. I've been rowing, on a bike, working on a treadmill and swimming. That's the case for another four weeks, then we'll start picking things up.

"I'd love to play again this season but at the moment it's impossible to tell - you've got to have a target though and my target is to play again this season."

The Newcastle manager, Glenn Roeder, believes Owen can rediscover his blistering pace. Roeder said: "Michael is talking about this being an opportunity to be absolutely certain his hamstrings are fully healed.

"He knows that, since the hamstring problems, he has probably lost a yard or two. He would like to use this period to regain the strength in his hamstrings so when he does play again, he's as quick as he ever was."