Shearer – Owen leaving is 'a scary thought'

Newcastle United 2 Stoke City 2

Alan Shearer never showed fear as a single-minded centre forward and yet, like every Newcastle United supporter, the St James' Park icon is afraid. Very afraid.

Such is the fate of his former club that even the most passive of pundits felt it necessary to own up to his sense of dread when asked about the ongoing saga surrounding Michael Owen's unsigned contract. Shearer is not alone on Tyneside when he worries that without their leading goalscorer the Magpies' malaise will only deepen.

"It's a scary thought with Michael in that precarious position," he admitted, although it is difficult to determine what is more frightening; Owen deserting Gallowgate or his former England team-mate plumping for a word like precarious.

If Shearer has been driven to despair, and to extend his vocabulary, by a sorry state of affairs at the club he served with such distinction then it is little wonder.

This season's leading goalscorer cannot wait to get away, Newcastle's archaic manager Joe Kinnear – permanently in charge and permanently in trouble – is on a collision course with the Football Association and United hover just a point above the bottom three.

Even by recent standards at St James' Park, this could be a crisis too far and losing Owen, either next month or next summer, will be yet another nail in the coffin of a club which simply cannot settle.

In the time since Newcastle paid Real Madrid a record £16m fee for one of European football's foremost forwards, United have rattled through five managers, two owners, 51 league defeats and many millions of pounds. For what? Successive bottom-half finishes in the Premier League and a plummeting reputation which continues to discourage potential buyers.

Owen only had to witness a familiar capitulation against Stoke City to reaffirm his determination to get out at the earliest opportunity.

In 23 days he can talk to any club willing to offer him the escape he craves and if a brace of goals in 16 engaging first-half minutes was part of the hard sell then it will surely work a treat.

Of course, that lead counted for nothing when his errant team-mates conspired to gift the Potters two second-half goals and an invaluable point. Mamady Sidibe and Abdoulaye Faye applied the telling finishes, the latter prodding home in injury time, but Newcastle's defenders made their job far too easy. It was enough to earn Kinnear a red card from Mike Riley to add to his outstanding FA charge for calling Martin Atkinson "a Mickey Mouse referee".

Owen still possesses the killer touch, but too many of his colleagues possess a leaden touch. Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, admitted: "Michael's two goals were very good, but we can't afford him. He might be going on a free transfer but we still couldn't afford him. I think a lot of people will be interested in Michael Owen, without a question of a doubt. But Stoke City? No. Ha ha ha. He's still a top, top player. He's still got that X-factor."

More likely, it's the exit factor. And without Owen what are Newcastle? No wonder Shearer is so fearful.

Goals: Owen (8) 1-0; Owen (24) 2-0; Sidibe (60) 2-1; Abdoulaye Faye (90) 2-2.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Beye, Coloccini, Bassong, Enrique; Gutierrez, Geremi (Cacapa, 82), Guthrie (Taylor, h-t), N'Zogbia; Martins (Viduka, 74), Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Edgar, Xisco, Carroll.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Griffin, Sonko, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham; Delap (Fuller, 57), Diao (Whelan, 21), Amdy Faye (Tonge, 78), Pugh; Sidibe, Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Cort, Davies.

Referee: Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Stoke Griffin.

Man of the match: Whelan (Stoke).

Attendance: 47, 422

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