New boy Martins falls a little short of No 9 legend

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The Independent Online

It remains to be seen whether Obafemi Martins will be deemed fit enough to lick the boots of his predecessors in the Newcastle United No 9 shirt, although soon he will be able to moisten the back-side of one of them, so to speak.

Albert Stubbins was a goal-scoring legend with Liverpool as well as Newcastle, which is why he features on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (in between Marlene Dietrich and Lewis Carroll) - one of six Beatles albums to be commemorated on a set of first-class Royal Mail stamps. He scored 245 goals for Newcastle, the vast bulk of them in wartime football, which is why the official club record stands at 206 to Alan Shearer.

Martins has yet to break his duck after three matches. He was getting closer in the latter stages of the Uefa Cup first round, first leg tie away to Levadia Tallinn on Thursday, though there was a touch of increasing desperation to the pot shots at which he was snatching.

Glenn Roeder remains confident that the first successful strike will open the floodgates for the diminutive 21-year-old Nigerian in whom he has invested £10 million of faith. It would help the Newcastle manager if that flow started at Upton Park this afternoon. After defeats against Aston Villa and Fulham, Roeder can ill afford a third successive Premiership loss, especially with trips to Anfield and Old Trafford looming, either side of a home match against Everton.

"Oba has been impressing hugely in training," Roeder said. "If we give him the right service he will take his chances. He is a player of exceptional pace, who will feed off the big striker, and he is a great player to play with."

The trouble is, after Shearer's retirement, Newcastle have limited options in the "big striker" department. The consistently inconsistent Shola Ameobi has a long-term hip problem that limits his availability, and in Tallinn Antoine Sibierski, principally a midfielder in his Manchester City days, was pressed into service as a centre-forward, heading the winner on his debut.

The fear on Tyneside is that - after all the talk of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, Miroslav Klose and Mark Viduka - Newcastle have come up considerably short in the major task of coping with the permanent loss of the totemic Shearer and the likely season-long absence of Michael Owen. Last season they won 4-2 at West Ham, courtesy of an Owen hat-trick and a Shearer goal. Still, their latest No 9 has made his mark in London before. In September 2003, Martins raced on to an Emre Belezoglu through-ball to put Internazionale 3-0 up before half-time in a Champions' League match at Highbury.

By the end of last season, Martins had become a peripheral figure with the Milan club. The summer signings of Hernan Crespo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic pushed him down to sixth in the strikers' pecking order. "It got to the point where it was better for me to leave," Martins reflected. "It was no good me staying at Inter just to watch."

A sub-11sec runner over 100 metres, Martins has at least one thing going for him as he strives to shape up in that black-and- white shirt. Jackie Milburn was similarly quick; he competed in the prestigious Powderhall Sprint. Then there is Martins' height. He might only be 5ft 7in, but that makes him two inches taller than Hughie Gallacher, the little Scot who shot Newcastle to their last title success, back in 1927.

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