Positive response to Owen dismissal

Phil Shaw sees Howard Wilkinson discover new life after Leeds
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The Independent Online
Michael Owen, Liverpool's 17- year-old goalscoring prodigy, was sent off for allegedly butting a Yugoslav defender as England opened Howard Wilkinson's reign as manager of the Under-18 side with a goalless draw in their Uefa Championship match at Rotherham last night.

On the first anniversary of his sacking by Leeds United, Wilkinson was reacquainted with the delights of life in the dug-out six minutes before half-time. Owen, who had received few opportunities to display the form that has terrorised Premiership defences this season, was crudely cut down by Yugoslavia's Sead Muratovic.

As the rival captains, the pair had shaken hands before the kick-off. Given that an officious referee had already issued five yellow cards for trivial offences - the final total would reach seven - Owen would have been advised to do the same again. Instead, he made as if to butt his assailant, who fell, clutching his face, despite minimal contact.

Wilkinson, who had won his only representative honours at this level back when Billy Wright and Joy Beverley were the David Beckham and Posh Spice of their day, reacted positively. Far from leaving Gifton Noel-Williams to forage alone, he brought off a midfield player, Kevin Dixon, and sent on Craig Dudley as a direct replacement for Owen.

Noel-Williams, who headed tantalisingly wide in the opening minutes, was also off target when he broke clear shortly after half-time. Dudley, who plies his trade at the opposite end of the spectrum to Owen with Notts County, had the best chance following fine wing-back play by Michael Ball, but the visitors scrambled the ball to safety.

Yugoslavia were largely restricted to long range. On the two occasions they worked a genuine opening, Steve Simonsen foiled Ardian Dokaj with saves of which the Rotherham-born David Seaman would have been proud.

Owen's folly put England at a disadvantage which made it hard to judge which, if any, of this side might follow Messrs Beckham, Campbell and Scholes into the senior squad. But Wilkinson must have been impressed by the composure of his three defenders, particularly Wesley Brown, who has something of the Rio Ferdinand about him, and by Ball and Noel-Williams.

Asked about Owen's indiscretion, Wilkinson said afterwards: "It was a silly thing to do because referees are very keen on punishing that sort of thing. He made a mistake and paid the price, but at least it wasn't a high price in terms of the result."

ENGLAND UNDER-18 (3-5-2): Simonsen (Tranmere); Brown (Manchester United), Woodgate (Leeds), Upson (Arsenal); Cooper (Nottm Forest), Nicholls (Charlton), Dixon (Leeds), Staton (Blackburn), Ball (Everton); Owen (Liverpool) Noel- Williams (Watford). Substitutes: Dudley (Notts County) for Dixon, h/t; Wellens (Man Utd) for Staton, 66; Smith (Watford) for Dudley, 83.

YUGOSLAVIA UNDER-18 (1-2-5-2): Radnojevic; Calija; Julovic, Muratovic; Lindovic, Dulaj (Tintor 62), Martinovic, Radunovic (Smit 81), Dokaj; Iliev (Arnaut 84), Kezman.

Referee: R Luinge (Netherlands).

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