Owen return imminent, future bleak for Shearer

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The Independent Online

Newcastle United last night attempted to lift the gloom surrounding the future of Alan Shearer by announcing the imminent return of Michael Owen. Shearer, the club's injured captain, expects to receive confirmation in the next 24 hours that his illustrious playing career has been brought to a slightly premature end by the serious knee ligament damage he suffered at Sunderland on Easter Monday.

Owen's prognosis is rather more upbeat, as, rather surprisingly given events earlier in the week, he was included in the Newcastle squad for the first time in almost four months.

Shearer's World Cup will also be spent in Germany, most probably still on crutches, as a BBC pundit. Specialists need time to assess the results of scans the 35-year-old underwent yesterday, but this appears to be no more than a stay of execution.

Newcastle have three Premiership matches remaining before Shearer's scheduled retirement at the end of the season, but Roeder's talk of the stand-in captain, Shay Given, leading the side "for the final three games" perhaps gave a realistic view of the caretaker manager's thoughts on Shearer's future as a player.

Owen has not played this year since fracturing a metatarsal bone in the defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on New Year's Eve. Since then he has twice undergone surgery.

"Michael's confident where he is in his training, and he's doing plenty of running and striking the ball," Roeder said after adding the £16m striker to a 21-man squad to face West Bromwich Albion today.

Roeder conceded only on Thursday that Owen was likely to be available for just the final game of the season, at home to Chelsea on 7 May. He swiftly changed his mind after the player impressed during training yesterday, although the former Liverpool forward has yet to take part in a full session since his injury.

Despite the 26-year-old's inclusion, at this stage in his rehabilitation it is unlikely he will even make it to the substitutes' bench. Next Saturday's visit to Birmingham City is probably a more realistic goal for him.

Roeder was yesterday given permission by the Premier League to remain in his post until the end of the season because of the knock-on effects on several clubs from the delayed appointment of the next England manager. Roeder's successful 12-week reign was due to end after today, as he does not have the necessary coaching badges.

With Shearer unavailable and Shola Ameobi unlikely to return unless he can play with a gumshield to protect a mouth injury, Roeder will pick two from Kieron Dyer, Albert Luque and Michael Chopra to fill the forward berths as Newcastle pursue a fifth straight League victory in an attempt to clinch a top-six finish.

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