Newcastle United 1 Fulham 1

Toon idol Owen forced to feed off scraps

Steve Tongue
Sunday 11 September 2005 00:00
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The crowd must have been equally alarmed by their team's defending on a day when Titus Bramble was recalled alongside Jean Alain Boumsong. Brian McBride and Tomasz Radzinski reduced the new partnership at one end of the pitch to quivering ineptitude while at the other Alan Shearer and Owen revived memories only of their less cohesive days together with England half a dozen years ago, when doubts were regularly expressed about their compatibility. It was fully an hour before St James' saw a genuine combination between them and neither managed a shot on target.

Graeme Souness believes the team he now admits is his own, with 10 new signings, cannot be fairly judged until players like Emre Belozoglu, Kieron Dyer and Nolberto Solano are available, and Owen and Bramble are match-fit. Now he has lost Albert Luque, the wide attacking player from Deportivo La Coruña, with a hamstring injury, as well as Parker to a suspension. "I'd have preferred to play Michael's first game away from home," he said. "We didn't get any real supply to Michael and Fulham quite defended quite deep, which is not best suited to him."

No pressure on Souness then, with his chairman, Freddy Shepherd, having declared in these pages last week that the aim this season was now "a top-six finish and a trophy"; the manager, always keen that players should bear their share of responsibility, immediately passed the load on to his new striking pair by suggesting "on paper, they are the best partnership in the history of English football".

On the pitch it was a different matter, for however little time the pair have had to train together they looked like strangers. Owen did not touch the ball for nine minutes and missed his one chance of a depressing first half for the home side; when Luque's corner fell for him at the far post, having been missed by the goalkeeper Tony Warner, the ball ran cruelly through Owen's legs.

Owen had started on the left of the front two, which meant he was up against the 6ft 6in Zat Knight and did not, understandably, have any joy stretching for the long balls punted towards him. After half an hour Shearer had to switch with him. By that stage Fulham had deservedly been in front for some time - thanks to a shambolic goal. Taylor played a dreadful back-pass straight to Luis Boa Morte, the player Souness repeatedly tried to sign in the summer, who laid it to Radzinski. A square pass as two defenders slipped and McBride had a tap-in.

There might well have been more. Papa Bouba Diop, a more mobile "wardrobe" than his nickname suggests, twice drove forward with immense power, keeping the second effort low enough to force Shay Given into a remarkable aerial save with his leg. McBride's clever header put Radzinski clear but although Taylor saved painfully on the line, colliding with a post, the referee's assistant had wrongly signalled offside.

Newcastle left the pitch at the interval to boos, Shearer, neatly set up by Luque's diagonal pass, having provided their only bright moment in shooting close to the far post. At half-time Souness intended replacing the weary Bramble but had to dispense with the injured Taylor, Lee Bowyer coming on and Stephen Carr reverting to his proper position of right-back. There was no immediate improvement in a creaking defence, Fulham creating three chances in as many minutes as the second half began - for Radzinski, Bouba Diop and McBride.

Two free-kicks finally raised Geordie spirits. In the 75th minute Bowyer tapped one to Carr, whose thunderous 25-yard drive bounced off the underside of the bar; as the visitors continued to concede unnecessary fouls around the penalty area, Owen won one with his first typically darting run and N'Zogbia, on for Luque, curled it from the angle of the area into the top corner of the net.

There was, belatedly, more drama to come, though not of the anticipated sort. Parker, already booked for the fourth time in five games, appeared to hold back his former Charlton colleague Claus Jensen and was sent off. Jensen swung the free-kick against the bar, while Souness, like Ms Alam, raged in vain against unfair dismissal.

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