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Pulis delays Owen's Stoke return

Michael Owen's hopes of a Stoke City return have taken another blow with Tony Pulis ruling him out of contention for this weekend's home clash with Everton.

• Blog: A balancing act for Pulis

The injury-blighted forward had declared himself fit after a special practice match earlier this week and ready for a place in the 18 for Saturday's game.

But his manager has poured cold water on that suggestion and has earmarked the player for possible duty in a reserve game at Rotherham next week rather than in the Premier League against the club he supported as a boy.

"The idea with Michael is to give him another week and try to arrange another game for him," Pulis said. "Then he might be available over the Christmas period. Fingers crossed, if we need him over what is a very busy period, he will be fine."

Owen hasn't figured since the home draw with Sunderland at the end of October and has been restricted to only four appearances - all of them as a substitute - since signing in a blaze of publicity right at the end of the summer transfer window.

Hamstring and groin problems have stalled his career in the Potteries, where he is yet to score.

"He did smashing on Tuesday but he needs another couple of weeks of full training," Pulis added. "Every time we've tried to get him in there, he has broken down. Maybe that's because we've tried to push him a bit."

Owen has already missed out on reunions with Liverpool - who visit the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day - and Newcastle, although he was used off the bench in Stoke's 4-2 defeat at another of his former clubs, Manchester United.

Pulis confirmed that the club were 'very close' to agreeing a new contract with captain Ryan Shawcross, with only a few minor issues left to resolve.

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