By Gary Oliver
GRAEME Souness watched Michael Owen record a hat-trick to sink West Ham at Upton Park, and then delivered a chilling warning to rival Premiership defences: "He will only get better."
The 26-year-old's treble takes his tally to seven goals in just eight outings since his club record signing from Real Madrid in August - and just for good measure he also set up Alan Shearer's 199th goal for the club as the Hammers were beaten in their own backyard.
Hamstring and groin injuries mean Owen hasn't played as many games as he would have liked since moving back to the Premiership.
But Souness knows his ace predator will become even more dangerous with every game he plays - and when United have their first-choice team fit and creating chances for him.
He said: "We are delighted to have Michael Owen at Newcastle.
"He is a proven goalscorer at every level. We feel that once we get everybody fit we'll create even more openings for him.
"We've missed Michael when he's not been in our team through injury. He was the difference today along with Alan Shearer - who is still a very big player for our team.
"We felt the two of them today could get at West Ham's back four and score goals and that's how it turned out.
"It wasn't a silky passing game because we are missing a lot of our players. We are just delighted with the three points.
"West Ham are a handful at home and they tried to get after us. We shot ourselves in the foot by giving them a penalty and allowing them back into the game.
"It should have been an easy 20 minutes for us but at times we were holding on.
"Strikers make the difference on the day and that's why Michael is valued the way he is.
"He's scored seven goals for us now and goals win and change games."
West Ham boss Alan Pardew admitted the Shearer-Owen strike partnership was a real handful - and he hopes the latter will be just as prolific when representing England in next summer's World Cup Finals in Germany.
He said:"Mistakes and a pairing that is obviously world class has cost us the game today.
"I cannot think of a time when Newcastle were in control of the game but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot.
"Owen's influence on the game was not great but his chances came and he scored them.
"Hopefully he will be representing us in the World Cup and I'll be cheering him when he scores goals - but not today."