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Prematch Comment - Newcastle v Fulham

last updated Friday 09th September 2005, 1:13 PM
Fulham boss Chris Coleman

Fulham boss Chris Coleman is backing Michael Owen to become a Newcastle legend - but hopes the England striker makes a slow start to life on Tyneside.

Owen is primed for his Magpies debut in Saturday's Barclays Premiership showdown at St James' Park after completing a club-record move from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day.

It was evident during Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland that the 25-year-old he is not yet firing on all cylinders.

His frustrating spell at the Bernabeu, where 15 of his 20 Primera Liga appearances were made from the bench, has left him short of game time over the last 12 months and Coleman hopes this will benefit Fulham.

"There will be no special treatment for Michael. Our guys know what a good player he is. The Premiership is played at a much different pace to La Liga but he is a world-class striker," he said.

"Even if he's not match-fit and is lacking sharpness, he will still score if he gets half a chance. Our defenders are ready for that. You can never take your eye off him because he has such a great eye for a goal.

"His movement is fantastic and the timing of his runs are excellent - that's why he's played for Real Madrid, Liverpool and England. Whether he kicks into life quickly with Newcastle only time will tell, but eventually he will be a major signing."

Fulham head to St James' in reasonable shape having secured four points from their first four matches, keeping two clean sheets in the process, but Newcastle are in a more precarious position.

They have drawn just one Premiership match - at home to West Ham - and have yet to score a goal, a disappointing opening which has shortened the odds on Graeme Souness becoming the first top-flight managerial casualty of the season.

Defeat or a poor performance on Saturday would further undermine his position, especially as the club broke the bank to capture Owen, and Coleman knows the onus is on Newcastle to deliver.

"Newcastle are always under pressure to win at home because they are such a big club. They have 50,000 screaming fans behind them who are mad for them to attack and score. The pressure is on Newcastle," he said.

"Our fans will be up there screaming for us and we've got to put a performance in because they've gone a long way. On Saturday they will go out to win because Michael Owen is playing and it's his first match for them.

"There will be a lot of razzmatazz. But we must concentrate on our own game. We're not usually at 100% after an international weekend but if that's the case on Saturday we'll lose the game, simple as that."

Fulham triumphed 4-1 at St James' last season but Coleman said: "We need to forget about that game. We're a different team and will possibly use a different formation.

"We can't live in the past - we must look to the future. It was a fantastic result but it won't help us tomorrow."

The Cottagers have been lifted by the signing of Philippe Christanval, the out-of-contract former France defender who put pen to paper on a three-year yesterday.

Christanval spent two weeks on trial at Arsenal during the summer and looks set to become Coleman's prized centre-back once he settles, possibly linking up with compatriot Alain Goma as the first-choice partnership.

But while he will be available to face Newcastle if the necessary paperwork is completed in time - his transfer has cost Fulham nothing - he is unlikely to play any part at St James' given his recent lack of match action.

The six-cap international's move to Marseille in 2003 was ruined by knee, thigh, ankle and tibia injuries which restricted him to just 13 appearances in two years. He has also played for Monaco and Barcelona. SportingLife

Newcastle boss Graeme Souness Newcastle boss Graeme Souness'" is backing new signing Michael Owen to bounce back from his England misery and launch the latest phase of his career in style.

The 25-year-old, a £17million signing from Real Madrid, is expected to line up alongside former international colleague Alan Shearer for the visit of Fulham to St James' Park on Saturday.

His new team are still looking for their first Premiership goal of the campaign and have collected a solitary point.

Owen will find himself under the spotlight after England's defeat in Belfast, but Souness is confident he will turn in a more characteristic performance.

"The thing that impressed everyone when he came on the scene as a 17-year-old was he already spoke like a man," said Souness.

"God has given him an attitude that he can deal with anything football throws at him, and although it is going to be a very special day tomorrow, he will deal with it."

Owen's readiness to take some of the heat for England's Windsor Park World Cup horror show was laudable, but Souness expected nothing less.

"That is what men do." he said.

"They do not turn around and point fingers at other people, the first thing they do is look at themselves in the mirror. That is the way I was brought up and that is the way I have tried to go through my life.

"Michael Owen is that, and we have a dressing room full of men like that now - go back to the Manchester United game (recent 2-0 Premiership defeat) with Jean-Alain Boumsong.

"That is the attitude we must have if we are going to be successful."

Owen's partnership with Shearer, which ended when the 35-year-old retired from international football after Euro 2000, will resume after a five-year break, and the newcomer admits he did not expect to play with his former sidekick again.

"You never expect to," said Owen.

"We played together quite a bit for England, and you never expect to play with him again, especially when he announced that this was going to be his last season."

The relationship between the two men remains as strong as ever - "I'm not as quick as I was five years ago," Shearer joked as the pair held a joint press conference, and Owen was swift to reply with a smile: "Nor am I."

Their link-up at international level had its critics, who suggested they both wanted to occupy the same space, but it did yield goals at the highest level, and although Shearer admits there will be subtle changes this time around, he is hopeful the potency will remain.

"I hope it hasn't changed a great deal," he said. "Probably both of our play has changed slightly, and particularly mine. Certainly in five years, it has.

"I have had to adapt, I have had no choice, but I hope there are still some goals in there. That is what we get paid for, to score goals and to win matches, so hopefully that has not changed."

If Shearer and Owen are to prosper, they will need good service, although the man who is expected to provide a great deal of it, Nolberto Solano, will have to bide his time.

The Peruvian, who has returned to Tyneside from Aston Villa, still has two matches of a three-game ban to serve.

But having tasted the highs of Sir Bobby Robson's reign, Solano is convinced Newcastle can return to the Champions League and challenge for trophies again.

"This club all the time has to be challenging for that place in the top four," said Solano.

"I know it will not be very easy - in the Premier League, you are playing against top teams - but that is the challenge every season.

"That is why the manager has brought good players in this season. It won't be very easy, but we need to be there, we need to fight and we need to prove it every week.

"On paper, we look very well, but in football you need to prove it every week."

Solano will be joined on the sidelines by the injured Kieron Dyer, Emre, Shola Ameobi and Craig Moore, although Albert Luque has shaken off an ankle problem and Titus Bramble is included for the first time since fracturing his elbow. SportingLife
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