Pompey represent "acid test" for Toon - Owen
Newcastle United skipper Michael Owen admits Monday night's clash with Portsmouth represents an ''acid test'' of their Premier League survival hopes.
The Magpies will run out against Pompey at St James' Park still three points adrift of safety and knowing they will probably have to win their three remaining home games if they are to avoid the drop.
That is exactly the target manager Alan Shearer has set his players after a return of just one point from the nine they have contested under him to date.
That run of fixtures has included tough games against Chelsea at home and in-form Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, but Owen knows the fightback must begin in earnest on Monday.
The 29-year-old said: ''It's great to see him back. He has brought a new lease of life to the fans and to certain members of the playing staff as well.
''We are all obviously desperate for a win. He came in - a bit like when Kevin Keegan came in and we had Arsenal away in the first two games in the cup and in the league - and we have had a couple of tough games since the manager came in.
''But this is a game on Monday now that we are probably expected to win, so it is probably our acid test.
''We need to win, there's no two ways about it. We need to get the three points.''
Owen has not scored since the 2-2 draw with West Ham on January 10, but was among the goals when Newcastle won 3-0 at Pompey on December 14.
A repeat of that result would come as a massive boost, although much has changed for both clubs during the ensuing months.
He said: ''Circumstances couldn't be more different now - they have got a new manager, we have got a new manager for starters.
''It's great we beat them and we are looking to do the double over them. But we have got more pressing issues.
''We need to win. Whoever the opposition is, we need this one.''
Shearer put the finishing touches to his preparations for the game amid suggestions that former chairman Freddy Shepherd could be part of a consortium hoping to buy out current owner Mike Ashley and then install the former striker as manager on a permanent basis.
However, in the short term, his only focus is amassing enough points to spare the club the embarrassment of slipping out of the top flight.
That could depend largely on what he gets from Owen, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins in front of goal over the next few weeks, and the temptation to follow Keegan's example and employ all three at once is an attractive one.
Owen said: ''It remains to be seen what the manager does, but the results are there for all to see.
''At the end of last year when we reverted to that, we went on a great run, pulled away from the relegation zone and ended up quite comfortable at the end of the season.
''The results are there for all to see. We played some of our best football when Kevin Keegan changed to that formation.''