Owen wakes up to what was not in the Newcastle brochure

Newcastle United 1 Fulham 1

The domestic arrangements of Newcastle's £17m striker were playing heavily on his mind after a week in which he travelled straight from Belfast to Newcastle to familiarise himself with his new team-mates on Thursday morning and, on the evidence of Saturday, they still have some way to go. Owen arrived in Newcastle this week as a refugee from the most devastating England performance of a generation and it was his misfortune to walk straight into a team wracked by a similar crisis of identity.

"Coming straight from England duty, it's now about going home, picking up a bag of clothes and finding somewhere to stay," Owen said. "It's been an interesting week. Not the greatest week with England losing and us only drawing. But I'm sure it's going to get better. You hope for a dream start, scoring on your debut and winning the game and all that. But you've got to be realistic in football as well."

This was a savage dose of realism for a 25-year-old who has made the most momentous decision of his career in the last month. He has witnessed the loyal support, received the lesson in Geordie fanaticism, had his name cheered to the rooftops - Saturday was time to acquaint himself with the less celebrated aspects of his new club. Chief among them were the Newcastle back four and they did not distinguish themselves on the occasion of Owen's grand arrival.

Charles N'Zogbia's sweetly flighted free-kick in the 79th minute, which was masquerading as a cross just moments before it dipped under Tony Warner's crossbar, was an escape from a dreadful performance that began with the collapse of Albert Luque 10 minutes before half-time. "Like being shot in the back of the leg," was Graeme Souness's description of his new £10m signing's hamstring injury, which he added, "as Bob Paisley would say, is a six-weeker."

Souness's late Liverpool mentor would no doubt also have something uncomplimentary to say about the state of the team which his great midfielder now finds himself in charge. With Luque, Emre, Kieron Dyer and Nolberto Solano all injured, they will also miss Scott Parker for the trip to Blackburn after he was dismissed for a second yellow card. Souness's declaration in his programme notes that he is one of the Premiership managers "who has got most to smile about", is beginning to look less viable by the game.

Souness was adamant "that this is my team - the players here are players I want to be here" and there is no immediate appetite among the board to dismiss a man who has spent around £50m since January for an immediate return of 19th place in the Premiership and two points. Much more damaging, however, was the manner in which the home support's blizzard of optimism was quelled within 13 minutes by a Fulham side who took the lead through Brian McBride.

Sky TV kept one camera trained on Owen throughout and although his reaction to the Fulham goal was nothing more than an irritated slap of the leg, he would have been entitled to look a good deal more aghast. Steven Taylor's back-pass to Shay Given was intercepted by Tomasz Radzinski who found Luis Boa Morte and his pass across the area was turned in by McBride.

A burst of pace that drew a crude challenge from Carlos Bocanegra, an unexpected back-post cross that bounced awkwardly between his legs - this was not the way that Owen would have envisaged his re-introduction to English football. Parker was Newcastle's outstanding performer, a dogged protector of his own defence who was sent off when he was left exposed against Claus Jensen and appeared to drag the Dane off the ball.

There was, in Souness's words, "no real supply" to his new No 10 who, he added, would be closer to proper match fitness for the visit to Ewood Park on Sunday. The resumption of a partnership with Alan Shearer that ended at international level five years ago might also take some work because the Newcastle captain struggled long and hard to find a way past the exemplary Zat Knight.

The whole Newcastle hierarchy from Owen, to Shearer and up to Souness could not fail to notice the warning spelled out by Freddy Shepherd in his programme notes that read like the longest get-out clause in recent football history. The Newcastle chairman pointed out that he could "do no more than back his manager and the team" and added that their investment since January was "second only to Chelsea in terms of spending - it is now up the manager and the players to do their bit."

In other words: don't blame me. There are few teams capable of spending £50m in the space of a year to replace the chaos of one season with a different cast and a fresh madness - although that threatens to be Newcastle's fate. A little money can be a dangerous thing. It is not a pitfall that Fulham's impressive young manager, Chris Coleman, fears though. "Buy Michael Owen?" he pondered, "we'd have more chance of signing Michael Jackson."

Goals: McBride (13) 0-1; N'Zogbia (78) 1-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor (Bowyer, h-t), Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Carr, Parker, Faye (Clark, 72), Luque (N'Zogbia, 35); Shearer, Owen. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk) Elliott.

Fulham (4-1-3-2): Warner; Volz, Knight, Bocanegra, N Jensen; Diop; Malbranque, C Jensen, Boa Morte; Radzinski, McBride (Helguson, 81). Substitutes not used: Batista (gk), Elrich, Christanval.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Newcastle Parker, Faye, Bowyer, Clark; Fulham Bocanegra. Sent off: Newcastle Parker.

Man of the match: Knight.

Attendance: 52,208.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments