Owen out as Souness plays it safe for Wigan

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The Independent Online

The Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness will take no chances with the striker Michael Owen as he sets his sights on the Carling Cup. The 25-year-old will again be missing when the Magpies run out at Wigan tonight, after failing to recover from the groin injury which kept him out of the League defeats at Chelsea and Everton.

Souness has admitted that what has now emerged as a small tear in his groin muscle was initially misdiagnosed as a strain, but he insists there is nothing more behind Owen's third injury lay-off since he joined the club in August.

"Michael, two weeks ago this Friday, trained with no problems," Souness said. "After training, he clipped three balls into an empty net on the Friday morning - not with any great power, just clipped them into an empty net - and on the third one, felt his groin.

"What we thought was just a slight strain is actually a small tear, but we are hoping he will be fine for this weekend."

The £17m England striker - who has started just six of the 11 games the club has played since his arrival and scored four goals - was badly missed, particularly during the second half, in Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park.

"It's frustrating and disappointing for everyone," Souness said. "In the short time Michael has been with us, he has shown how important he is to the cause.

"I think you would liken it to Manchester United missing Wayne Rooney or indeed Arsenal missing Thierry Henry. He is the difference in tight games. In games there is nothing in, he can be the difference.

"It's a fact that Michael Owen is an out-and-out goal-getter and goals change games. Goals give you confidence and I think he's vital to our cause."

Sunday's reverse left the Magpies in 12th place in the Premiership, five points adrift of the top-six berth they believe would represent a successful season. The fact the club has not lifted a major trophy since 1969 or captured a piece of top-flight domestic silverware for 50 years makes a fourth-round Carling Cup tie all the more significant.

However, asked if he would prefer to lift the trophy or finish in the top four, Souness replied: "Top four. I think that would be the common sense way to look at it."

Newcastle will have to gain revenge for the 1-0 league defeat at the JJB Stadium on 15 October if they are to progress further in the Cup competition. As well as Owen, Souness is without full-back Celestine Babayaro, also missing with a groin problem, while Kieron Dyer, Steven Taylor, Stephen Carr and Craig Moore are still out.