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Owen in first-team contention

Michael Owen came through a behind closed doors friendly for Stoke unscathed to put himself in contention for Stoke City's home game against Everton on Saturday.

• Blog: Owen set to return
• Owen blames Reds for injuries

Stoke lost the game 1-0 but Owen tweeted afterwards that he had avoided any recurrence of injury. He said: "Just played 70 minutes in a behind closed doors game against Preston. Came through unscathed!"

Owen, who made the latest of his meagre four appearances for the club as a substitute against Sunderland on October 27, said he was straining at the leash again following groin and hamstring injuries.

"I am healthy and raring to go," he said. "It depends on me now to stay fit and perform. I have to wait for the opportunity but hopefully I can take it when it does come.

"I've had muscular problems, which have probably come from not having a solid pre-season, but that's gone. I want to look forward and hopefully iron out the niggles and get on with playing some games.

"It's a key period because the games are coming thick and fast and there are a lot of points to be had around Christmas. I just want to get going because it has been a stuttering start so far for me. I just want to be fit for a period of time and show the fans what I came here to do."

Whether Owen figures at the weekend against the club he supported as a boy could depend on how he shapes up over the next few days.

Manager Tony Pulis was already well blessed with forwards - at least compared with the previous weekend - when Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome were fit to take their places on the bench and then go on in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Aston Villa.

The five-goal Crouch, who eased his way back from dental surgery by playing the final 14 minutes against Villa, is likely to be pushing for a recall at the expense of Kenwyne Jones, although he has not netted since the end of September.

That leaves Owen fourth in the pecking order, with Jonathan Walters - used almost entirely wide on the right this season - able to play in the middle as well if needed.

"I possibly could have been okay for the Aston Villa game but we had Crouchy coming back and Kenwyne had done well lately, so the manager decided to let me have a few more days' training," he added. "Hopefully that puts me spot-on for the games coming up.

"It is a big squad for a club that is not one of the Champions League sides. We have a lot of cover in a lot of positions and the strikers are no different.

Stoke's goal-scoring options will also be boosted by the return of Charlie Adam, who served his one-match suspension at Villa Park, but Ryan Shotton is now banned following his unfortunate sending-off in that game.


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