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Owen set for bigger role

Michael Owen is being primed for an upgrade in his contribution to Stoke City's season - once he is over the latest of the hamstring problems that leave him "so, so nervous".

Owen again sits out Saturday's vital home game against Queens Park Rangers but is expected to be fit for the visit to West Ham a week on Monday.

Manager Tony Pulis believes the player's predatory instincts would have made him a natural to try to save last weekend's game at Norwich.

"Physically, he's in good order but we knew it might be stop-start with him, especially at the beginning of the season," Pulis said. "When we get him through this initial period, we hope he will stay fit. I would have brought him on for the last 20 minutes last weekend when we were in the ascendancy.

"With the amount of possession and balls into the box we had, we needed someone around Crouchy, although Kenwyne Jones looked really bright when he went on.

"It's more to do with Michael's posture and the fitness people here spend a lot of time on that sort of thing. It's aligned to his back and spine and making sure everything is in place. If it goes, he's so, so nervous about it being long term.

"I don't think Michael would say it's psychological but he's very protective."

While he waits to properly unleash the man whose summer signing lit up the Potteries, Pulis has been able to lean on a much more familiar shoulder. Results-wise, Stoke have started this season as they finished last and sit in 15th place in the Premier League. But there has been no hint of unrest from the boardroom.

"Of course we need a win, like six or seven other clubs," he added. "But the chairman rang this week and said he thought this was the best we had played in the Premier League.

"In the modern game, one of the great things managers will tell you is to have somebody like that who understands the rigours, the ebbs and flows."

Pulis has insisted there will be no cold-shouldering of Mark Hughes, the fellow Welshman with whom he refused to shake hands following a game between Stoke and Fulham nearly two years ago. His action followed a similar gesture of Hughes but Pulis said: "There will be no problem after the game. Mark will be invited for a drink. Things happen in sport."

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