Newcastle Utd 2 Watford 1: Martins is a folk hero in the making

Nigerian striker looks the answer to Geordie prayers for talisman as Watford pain deepens
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The ticker-tape celebrations have been placed on hold and the champagne put on ice. The Toon Army will have to wait until 22 February and the visit of SV Zulte Waregem to get a glimpse of the Intertoto Cup. Judging from the picture on Uefa's website, it looks more like an egg cup than a trophy, which is probably just as well.

Over the passage of time at St James' Park, the old, cobwebbed trophy cabinet has been replaced by something more of a display case. In Graeme Souness' time as manager, he brought in some old shirts and medals to fill it.

Still, these qualify as heady times at Newcastle United - thanks to one Cristiano Lucarelli, whose winning goal for Livorno against Auxerre on Thursday night made the Magpies the last surviving Intertoto entrants in the Uefa Cup. And therefore they became winners of some non-lower-divisional silverware for the first time since John Tudor, Alex Bruce and Paul Cannell (to the old Leazes End chant of "Fucking hell, it's Paul Cannell") overturned a 1-0 deficit against Southampton in the home leg of the Texaco Cup back in December 1975.

Yesterday, it was a Nigerian - not a local, like Cannell - who was the toast of the Toon. Obafemi Martins might have some way to go before the Hallelujah Chorus is adapted in his honour, as the choir of Hexham Abbey have done in recognition of Alan Shearer, but after a slow start in the Newcastle No 9 shirt the little Nigerian is rapidly making up for lost time.

He scored twice yesterday, taking his tally for the season up to eight, with five of them coming in the last four games. The winner he smashed into the Leazes End net five minutes from time kept Glenn Roeder's side climbing clear of the Premiership relegation zone and consigned poor Watford to a fate they hardly deserved.

"Another punch in the nose," Adrian Boothroyd, Watford's luckless manager, called it, after watching his team of supposed Premiership makeweights give Newcastle the runaround for much of the afternoon. "We just have to keep going and wait for Sod's Law to turn."

Watford have waited since the first Graham Taylor era for fortune to turn in their favour on Tyneside. Their last win at St James' dates back to August 1981, when Nigel Callaghan volleyed the only goal of the game. They have not won on the road in the Premiership since Tommy Mooney scored at Anfield in August 1999 but they could easily have done so yesterday.

They started brightly, their forward Darius Henderson very nearly getting on the end of an Al Bangura cross in the opening minute. It took Newcastle a quarter-of-an-hour to stir themselves into attacking mode, Watford's goalkeeper Richard Lee blocking a Kieron Dyer drive with his knees and Antoine Sibierski glancing a header wide.

But it was Watford who were threatening to break through as half-time approached. They might well have done so, had Shay Given not been in his customary fine form, the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper diving smartly to push wide a shot from Hameur Bouazza and stretching to tip over a dipping drive by Henderson. Bouazza forced another save from Given before Newcastle struck four minutes into the second half. Nicky Butt fed the ball out to the right to James Milner, whose measured cross was headed home by Martins.

To their credit, Watford's resolve never weakened. Eight minutes later they had their reward, Ashley Young hoisting a left-wing corner, Henderson heading the ball goalwards, and Bouazza steering it across the line. It was the very least that Boothroyd's boys could have deserved.

Twice more the lively Henderson forced Given to come to the rescue of the stuttering Magpies. With five minutes remaining, though, Damien Duff slid the ball into the box at the other end. It fell into the path of Martins, who swept it past Lee from 10 yards. The Hornets had been well and truly stung.

"Today we saw the Oba Martins that I've been telling you all about," Roeder said of his £10 million summer signing. Not that anything was seen of the £9.5m Albert Luque, the Spaniard apparently having made a swift departure after failing to feature on the team sheet.