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Newcastle's Owen scores in front of McClaren

Michael Owen struck his first goal of the season as Newcastle United defeat Barnsley 2-0 in last night's Carling Cup tie.

England boss Steve McClaren was in the stands at St James' Park as Owen scored his first competitive goal for the club in more than 20 months in his first start of the season.

With vital Euro 2008 qualifiers against Israel and Russia coming up, Owen seems certain to have a vital role to play for his country and his return to fitness and goalscoring form could hardly have come at a better time for the national team coach.

Magpies boss Sam Allardyce, who handed Owen and Shola Ameobi starts in place of the rested Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka, later admitted his resources in attack are more extensive than McClaren's.

He said: "Steve was here tonight and I don't think there is any question that England have fewer options than I do, don't they? I have four options, they don't have many, do they?

"This is only going to be good for Michael, for Newcastle and for England.

"Fit and well tomorrow and recovered Friday, we will have a look, have a chat and see where we go from there for Saturday for the best and fittest XI to try to beat Wigan before the international break."

Owen's fitness after two injury-hit years on Tyneside - tonight's game was just his 14th start for the club since his £17million switch from Real Madrid and his 17th appearance in total - may be a matter of national interest, but Allardyce insists Newcastle must come first.

He said: "It is not a formality he starts on Saturday, no. I will just have to weigh up the whole situation and use a selection process based on what has been done in the past by everybody and what the situation is going into the game against Wigan.

"Places at this stage cannot be guaranteed for anybody.

"I will see what he is like tomorrow. His level of intensity tonight will be at his highest, probably, since the Germany match, so we will have to see how he feels tomorrow and take it from there.

"We have got four very good strikers - Mark Viduka, Shola Ameobi, Obafemi Martins and Michael Owen - and we will need to use all four of them throughout the season."

Owen's big chance came after 57 minutes when he was played through by Ameobi after making a trademark run off the shoulder of the last defender.

His finish was typically assured as he collected his eighth goal for the club and only his second at St James' to set up the victory over the battling Coca-Cola Championship side.

Owen left the field to warm applause with seven minutes remaining, and his replacement, Martins, wrapped up the win within three minutes with a smart volley.

Allardyce said: "It was a comfortable performance tonight, we were never in any trouble at any stage of the game apart from maybe getting a little over-frustrated in the first half and not being able to break down Barnsley as much as we would have liked."

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