GRAEME Souness has warned Alan Shearer not to expect to play in every game over the Christmas period as he chases the one goal he needs to equal Jackie Milburn's all-time goalscoring record.

Saturday's strike at West Ham took the Newcastle skipper to the 199-goal mark - one short of the double century posted by Milburn.

The packed Christmas schedule gives Shearer every chance of overhauling the Magpies legend, with next week's visit to Liverpool kicking off a hectic run of four games in eight days.

Souness' men travel to Anfield on Boxing Day, before home games with Charlton and Middlesbrough sandwich a New Year's Eve trip to Tottenham.

Michael Owen is expected to feature in all those games, provided he stays free of the groin injury that sidelined him last month.

Shearer will not be an ever-present, though, despite his impressive recent showings against both Arsenal and West Ham.

The 35-year-old detests being rested for any game but, after overcoming a hernia injury this season, Souness is unwilling to push him too far with the second half of his farewell campaign still to come.

"We'll have to make sure that we take care of Alan over the Christmas period," said Souness. "There are an awful lot of games in a very short space of time and we have to be sensible.

"At 25, I would think Michael will be better able to play in all of the games. He hasn't had a lot of football recently and I would have no qualms about asking him to do that.

"But Alan is a bit older than Michael and we can't expect him to do quite as much.

"He's only one behind the record now and I'm sure he'll be wanting to play in every game.

"But, as a manager, I have to stand back from things a bit and realise that might not be possible."

While Shearer will be gunning for personal glory next Monday, all eyes will be focused on Owen as he makes an emotional return to Anfield.

The 25-year-old, who joined Liverpool as an 11-year-old schoolboy, has never previously faced his former employers.

His 158 goals in 297 games means he remains a legend on the Kop and, while his commitment to the Magpies cannot be in doubt following last weekend's hat-trick at West Ham, he admits to feeling somewhat apprehensive about taking on a club that still means a lot to him.

"When I knew I was coming back to the Premiership, I always thought it would be strange to go back to Anfield," said Owen, whose last appearance on the ground actually came against Newcastle on the final day of the 2003-04 season.

"But I'll deal with it when the game actually comes along - I'll cross that bridge when it comes.

"I've not thought long and hard about it yet, but I've got a picture in my head of what it will be like going back.

"It will be exciting seeing a lot of old friends and it's something to look forward to. But it will be a strange one as I never thought I would leave Liverpool. I'd been there since I was 11."

Owen held talks with the Reds before signing for Newcastle in the summer and, while Rafael Benitez was lukewarm about the prospect of the England international re-signing, the club's fans were distraught when he opted for a move to Tyneside.

Things have not gone entirely to plan since then, with hamstring and groin injuries limiting him to just eight starts in a black and white shirt.

Those eight starts have brought seven goals though, and Owen is confident the second half of the season will see the Magpies continuing to climb the Premiership table.

"I signed a four-year contract with Newcastle and I'm very pleased with that decision," he said. "When I joined, I didn't come to a club that was top of the table. Newcastle were second bottom and I came prepared for a fight.

"Fortunately, things have improved since then. We've been a bit unfortunate with injuries but, when everyone's been fit, the results have been quite good.

"We would have wanted a better start to the season but we are slowly but surely climbing the table and another couple of wins would propel us into the UEFA Cup places. That's the bare minimum of where we want to be.

"Every year, there's always one or even two teams that surprisingly get into the Champions League or a UEFA Cup place, so there's plenty still to play for."

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