MICHAEL OWEN is in no doubt Manchester City will be among the leading lights in the Barclays Premier League this season.
Owen is still basking in the glow of scoring a dramatic late stoppage-time winner in the derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The goal, his first for his new club on their historic home ground, ended a tumultuous afternoon, the after-effects of which could rumble on all week, with both Manchester United and Craig Bellamy in the dock over a pitch invasion, coin throwing incident and confrontation with a fan.
But when the dust finally settles, there will be a general acceptance that City went toe-to-toe with their illustrious neighbours and were within seconds of claiming a morale-boosting draw.
Owen knows it, most United fans sense it and the reactions of Gary Neville and Alex Ferguson confirmed it. City are going to be a force.
“Manchester City have been quite impressive since the start of the season,” said the former Liverpool striker.
“You would think they will be up at the right end of the table.
“Everyone is guessing how far up the table that is. Whether it is a European place or a Champions League place I am not sure. But I definitely think they will be up there.” Given the sniping from both teams that accompanied Sunday’s fixture, the rivalry between Manchester’s warring factions promises to be a fascinating side issue.
Until the return match at Eastlands next April, local hostilities should be set aside, although it might not be that easy for a few days at least until the respective combatants lick their wounds and assess the damage.
Even Owen, a rather detached figure given his north Wales roots and relative newness to the Manchester football scene, found himself wrapped up in an absorbing contest.
“It was brilliant,” he said. “I don’t know how the manager and staff do it. It must be so nerve-wracking.
“When I start a game I never get nervous. I always feel in control.
“But when you are sat on the bench the game rubs off on you.
“When you do go onto the pitch you are a little bit nervous because you have felt all the emotions of everyone sat around you. You kick every ball with the team.
“The first couple of minutes are quite hard. It is not like just going down to the park for a kick-around.
“At this level you have to be right into the game, at the right speed despite sitting on your backside for the previous hour, or however long it is.
“But you get sent on to get a goal. Thankfully that is what I did.”
The calmness Owen displayed as he finished off Ryan Giggs’ sublime pass in the sixth minute of stoppage-time was a reminder of the quality the 29-year-old still possesses.
Owen has only started one game this season, the defeat at Burnley last month, which goes some way to explaining why his present tally is just two goals.
He should get another opportunity tomorrow night though, when United tackle Wolves as they begin the defence of the Carling Cup at Old Trafford. “Some games you get four chances and don’t score, then you get criticised, other times you get one chance and you score,” he said.
“That is the hard bit as a striker. You have to ride all the emotions and waves. You get criticised when you miss a few. You take the adulation when you score.”
While no doubt elated at Owen’s contribution, and that of two-goal Darren Fletcher and the evergreen Giggs, Ferguson does have issues to address. Rio Ferdinand’s part in City’s third equaliser would have left his manager furious, given the defender’s status as a senior player.
And Ben Foster must be fearful for his first-team place. Having almost been caught out once already by the Argentina star, there was no excuse for him fluffing his lines by playing another waiting game with Carlos Tevez, which this time the former United striker won.
Foster also seemed to go down far too early for Bellamy’s second, effectively leaving the Welshman with a tap-in.
Although Ferguson has previously stated his belief that Foster will go to next summer’s World Cup as England’s number one, if Tomasz Kuszczak catches the eye against Wolves this week, Foster may find himself eased out of the United line-up before Edwin van der Sar has returned.
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