Chris Hughton is backing the Newcastle captain, Michael Owen, to fire the club to Premier League safety on his return from injury. The 29-year-old England international has not played for the Magpies since the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on 28 January, missing the last five games with an ankle ligament injury. In that time, Newcastle have slipped to within a point of the relegation zone and head into Saturday's trip to 14th-placed Hull in desperate need of a victory.
Owen is poised to make his comeback against the Tigers and a swift return to the form that has brought him 30 goals in 70 appearances for the club could hardly come at a better time. Hughton said: "What you want, particularly at a time like now when we know we are going into the last phase of the season, is as many of your big players around the squad as possible, and Michael is certainly one of those. As our captain, Michael is arguably the biggest of the lot of them.
"His presence around the squad is always a plus but to actually have him available to play really is a boost for us going into the Hull game. For numerous teams between now and the end of the season, their ability to score goals will be crucial to where they end up.
"Michael isn't just one of the best strikers in the Premier League, he is one of the best strikers around anywhere. The one thing that remains consistent is that, when he plays, he scores goals."
Newcastle have won only one of the five games for which Owen has been out of action and taken just five points in the process. The last of his 10 goals this season came in a 2-2 home draw with West Ham on 10 January and Newcastle badly need him to increase his tally over the 10 games left in the campaign. Hughton added: "Anyone would rather have Michael Owen in the squad than not... because of what he brings to the team. But what will bring us the edge over our rivals is the team's performance on the day.
"Michael is one of just 11 players, he can't win games on his own. We have to perform well. If Michael is going to score goals, he needs someone to provide those goals for him. If we give him the ammunition, though, he is one of the best at putting them away."