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By ESPN Staff
Apr 18, 2008

Keegan hopeful Toon can agree new Owen deal

Kevin Keegan will head into this weekend's derby clash with Sunderland confident Michael Owen is ready to commit himself to Newcastle United.

The 28-year-old England striker is out of contract on Tyneside at the end of next season, and manager Keegan has made his retention a priority.

Having left the club's hierarchy in little doubt as to what he feels their next move should be, Keegan has handed the matter over to chairman Chris Mort.

Keegan said: 'It's for Chris Mort to do that now. I have made it absolutely clear what I think should be done, and I have passed that on to him.

'He will handle that now so any questions about that will be between Chris Mort and Michael's advisors.

'But my feeling is, genuinely, that he wants to be here, he wants to help lead this club for the next few years.

'I don't want to tempt providence, but I think that is a deal that will be done as soon as they get together, really. I don't think it will take long.'

In the meantime, however, Owen will lead out the side as they aim to score a Premier League victory over their fiercest rivals at St James' Park.

The former Liverpool and Real Madrid frontman is still awaiting his first goal against the Black Cats due to injury and the Wearside club's year out of the top flight last season.

However, he is in good form and was only prevented from scoring in a fifth successive game by David James' head at Portsmouth last weekend.

Keegan will go into battle with opposite number Roy Keane for the first time, and the respect between the two men is mutual.

He said: 'Roy has done a fantastic job - and I said that way before I came back here to manage Newcastle again.

'He is a big character and he has got the immediate respect of players because he is not asking them to do anything he has not done on a football pitch.

'He has done as well as I did when I first came into management as a rookie here, because the Premier League has changed.

'He could not do with Sunderland what I did with Newcastle all those years ago because the top four clubs now and the finances available to a lot of the others mean you just cannot make that leap from the division below into the top half of the Premier League so easily.

'What he has achieved is comparable to what I achieved. It doesn't look as good, but in reality, the goalposts have been moved so far that it is a major achievement.

'Once you stabilise a club like Sunderland coming up from the other division, then you can start to look at taking it to the next stage, and that's what they will be looking to do.'

Keegan boasts a 100% record against Sunderland having won all four games against them during his first spell in charge at St James' - indeed, he is unbeaten in 10 north-east league derbies.

However, despite his side going into the game on the back of a five-match unbeaten run, he knows form counts for little.

He said: 'Derby matches are very special, and if you ever see them as not being very special, that's when you get the shocks.

'If the players don't realise already what derby matches mean from previous clubs, then you would be disappointed.

'But the good thing for us is we have a lot of experienced players and if the Michael Owens and the Mark Vidukas - I could go on - don't understand how big this game is, nobody does.'