Portsmouth 0 Newcastle United 0: Keegan certain 'mainman' Owen will stay

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The Independent Online

It is five games unbeaten now for Newcastle United and for supporters and management alike there must be a quiet satisfaction that, for now, the players are showing promise that they are capable of far more than their position in the Premier League table suggests.

Gone are the abject performances that marked the early period of Kevin Keegan's reign and, though his side did little to warrant victory against Harry Redknapp's FA Cup finalists Portsmouth, the Newcastle manager was in buoyant mood, clearly savouring the prospect of better things to come.

At the forefront of it all would be Michael Owen, his captain, whom he has played in a withdrawn role in a three-man strike force that also contains the talent of the livewire Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka, the Australian forward. If ever Owen was unsure as to what his manager thought of him, the praise heaped on him by Keegan would have left him with no doubt.

"I have got about five leaders in my team, a lot of good men," Keegan said. "But Michael wears the armband because he is the main man, the one that glues it altogether.

"He has totally taken over the dressing room, along with a few players, and said, 'Let's get this club to where it belongs'."

Contract talks, Keegan indicated, would begin soon to tie the England striker to the club. "I don't think there will be any problems with getting him to sign a new contract because I think that he wants to stay," Keegan said. "I think he is enjoying his football and being at the club.

"Regardless of how big a name comes to the club or how much he costs, Michael will be our biggest signing next season."

Owen had perhaps the best chance to win the game, on 71 minutes when a sliced clearance by the Portsmouth defender Sylvain Distin flew into his path. His shot ricocheted off the forehead of the goalkeeper David James. He, along with the defender Glen Johnson, was among Portsmouth's more impressive performers.

James, like his counterpart, Steve Harper, however, was untroubled for most of this match. Early on, Harper was left exposed when the Portsmouth striker Jermain Defoe stole in behind his marker to volley goalwards a drifted pass from the Ghanaian Sulley Muntari. Defoe's effort flew wide of Harper's goal.

Redknapp said: "Winning the FA Cup is the most important thing for us, but finishing in fifth place would be nice."

Portsmouth (4-4-2) James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Diop, Muntari, Davis, Kranjcar; Kanu (Nugent, 75), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Lauren, Hughes, Mendes, Begovic.

Newcastle United (4-3-3) Harper; Beye, Taylor, Faye, Enrique; Geremi, Butt, Barton; Martins, Owen, Viduka (Smith, 81). Substitutes not used: Duff, Edgar, Forster, Carroll.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Portsmouth Johnson; Newcastle Barton.

Man of the match: Johnson.

Attendance: 20,507.

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