Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Newcastle United 1, Wigan Athletic 0: Owen on target to keep Newcastle revolution rolling

Even football's notorious rush to judgement has to pause for internationals, but at St James' Park September's brakes are welcome. These are revolutionary times on Tyneside and the actors and their audience now have a fortnight to reflect on 101 days that shook Newcastle United's world.









That is the length of time from Mike Ashley's purchase of Sir John Hall's shares to Michael Owen's winning goal against Wigan Athletic on Saturday.



There will be a rash of debate – there are times when it seems Sam Allardyce could give a 20-minute answer to the offer of a cup of tea – but on Saturday the Newcastle manager declared himself "absolutely mentally fatigued".



The speed and scale of change at Newcastle, plus transfer deadline week, was the cause of Allardyce's weariness, but he was able to summon a couple of phrases for the faithful to ponder. One was: "I've torn this place apart in three months." The other: "We're nowhere near our best."



Considering Newcastle are unbeaten in their first four Premier League games, were up to fifth before yesterday, have significant players injured and are yet to assimilate all the newcomers, there is room for optimism.



The former Marseilles captain Habib Beye was unveiled before kick-off, the last of nine summer signings (with 12 men out). When all are fit and ready Allardyce should be able to field a formidable team and bench. Given, Beye, Taylor, Cacapa, Enrique are a useful back five and Milner, Butt, Barton and N'Zogbia a versatile midfield. Then there should be Owen and Viduka up front. That leaves a possible bench of Harper, Rozehnal, Geremi, Martins and Smith, meaning Faye, Ameobi, Emre, Carr and Duff could be watching from the stands. As Allardyce said, this is after three months' work.



Given a kind fixture list – only one of the established top four will be faced before Christmas – Newcastle should be comfortably top-half by the opening of January's window. Ashley might fancy another go then; Allardyce's net spend is approximately £10m.



At times on Saturday Newcastle did not flow. Against a Wigan side erroneously reduced to 10 men when Steve Bennett sent off Kevin Kilbane in the 46th minute for a challenge on Alan Smith, the tempo was too slow. The zip of the improving Charles N'Zogbia was the contrast.



Chances did come – in the first half alone there were two for Owen, plus a disallowed goal and then a header on to the bar by Steven Taylor. So to raise questions about creativity will annoy Allardyce. But particularly at home, with the opposition banked up, supporters will have to show patience.



They did on Saturday, finding an 87th-minute reward courtesy of Obafemi Martins' introduction and Owen's brilliant near-post run. "You don't get into the position of being a centre-forward and scoring many goals if you're a pessimist," said Owen. "Even if you miss 10 chances in a game you've always got to have the balls to get in the position again."



Wigan have had their own mini-revolution with Paul Jewell's departure, but have begun the season well. The difference here was Owen. "He's a little bugger, ain't he?" said Wigan's manager, Chris Hutchings. "You get the ball in the box for England and he'll score goals. He's a fox in the box."

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