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By ESPN Staff

Mort looking to tie Owen down to new deal

Newcastle chairman Chris Mort is ready to sit down with derby hero Michael Owen and attempt to tie him down to a new deal.

Owen sent owner Mike Ashley into raptures with a double against arch-rivals Sunderland yesterday to formally end what at one point not so very long ago had developed into a battle for Barclays Premier League survival.

The 28-year-old now has 12 goals for the season and six in his last six games, and it is no coincidence that return has come on the back of 17 consecutive starts.

Considering he managed only 14 appearances in total in his first two injury-wrecked seasons on Tyneside, manager Kevin Keegan's assertion that the fans are only now seeing him at his best is a valid one.

Keegan was convinced of Owen's ability to lead the club's fight for years to come within weeks of his return to the St James' Park, and while the player himself has so far responded diplomatically to enquiries over his future, Mort had made his own feelings public.

Speaking as the derby celebrations began in earnest - Ashley visited the dressing room after the final whistle to congratulate the players - he said: 'As we have said all along, we are obviously keen for Michael to stay.

'He is a fabulous player and he showed that again today.

'Now we are looking forward to sitting down with his team and working out an agreement for him to stay at Newcastle United.'

It was Graeme Souness who invested £17million to bring Owen back to England from Real Madrid in August 2005.

However, it is a measure of the turmoil which has engulfed St James' since that he, Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce all found themselves robbed of the player's services by one injury or another before Keegan took over at the helm less than two-and-a-half years later.

If any of the three were watching yesterday, they could have been forgiven for doing so with a rueful smile as Owen first left a bemused Paul McShane in his wake to head Geremi's fourth-minute cross past Craig Gordon and then earned his side a penalty after a deft exchange of passes with Mark Viduka on the stroke of half-time.

Danny Higginbotham will count himself unfortunate to have been penalised for handball as he slid in to block and Gordon will feel similarly ill-served by fate after getting a hand to Owen's spot-kick but failing to keep it out of the net.

But a man who has made his name by scoring goals since he burst on to the scene as a precocious 17-year-old at Liverpool did not care one bit as he celebrated in front of the Gallowgate End where predecessor Alan Shearer once did much of his best work.

Sunderland were left kicking themselves after the reverse fixture when they failed to make the most of their chances and were left with only a point to show for their efforts after James Milner's fluke equaliser rescued the visitors.

But this time around, they never really gave themselves a chance, setting up in a 4-5-1 formation as they attempted to cope with the loss of key defenders Jonny Evans and Phil Bardsley through injury.

Indeed, it was not until manager Roy Keane had belatedly provided lone striker Kenwyne Jones with support that they briefly threatened, the Trinidad and Tobago international forcing keeper Steve Harper to make his only save of note with a 68th-minute header.

The fact that a rejuvenated Newcastle were nowhere near their best, yet still managed to win comfortably, told its own tale.

Harper said: 'I am happy - that's the one game, when the fixtures come out, that everybody wants to win, and we have managed to do that.

'We have played better this season, but it's difficult in a derby game.'

Newcastle now head for West Ham next weekend looking to extend their unbeaten run to seven games, something they have not done all season.

But for 22-year-old defender Steven Taylor, the only Geordie in the starting XI, it does not get much better than yesterday.

He said: 'There was no better feeling on the final whistle than seeing the Sunderland players with faces like smacked backsides.

'We were disappointed at the Stadium of Light because we didn't get the result we wanted there, and today was for the fans.

'The fans deserved that, and it was great to send them home happy.'