Relegation fever takes over Martins

Nigerian striker admits Blackburn's midweek win has raised anxiety levels
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The Independent Football

Obafemi Martins said this week that he had never heard of Hull prior to coming to England and he joked that he would never be able to find it "without sat-nav", but Hull City today have the opportunity to transform themselves into a landmark that Martins and all at Newcastle United may be unable to shift from their mental map for some time.

Should Hull inflict a ninth away defeat on Newcastle, they would not only move seven points clear of the Geordies with nine games to play, Hull would simultaneously enhance the fear on Tyneside that Newcastle can and will be relegated.

Martins (right) revealed that Blackburn Rovers' victory at Fulham on Wednesday night was the talk of the Newcastle training ground on Thursday morning. Blackburn's win lifted them two points and two places above Newcastle and Martins was asked if the result had increased his anxiety.

"Yeah," he replied without hesitation, "and not just me by the way, all the team. When we came in this morning everyone was talking about Blackburn winning and what are we going to do. We've just got to try and – I'm not saying die there on Saturday – but we just have to win.

"We were all talking to each other about how important it is not to be relegated and about the Blackburn game. What we have to do is to try and help each other right now. We realise the Blackburn result was bad news for us, it makes it more and more difficult again."

Newcastle's language regarding Hull has not been understated. Michael Owen, who should return today after six weeks out, has called it "our cup final"; Steve Harper has said it is as big a game as any in his 16 years at the club and now Martins has added his dramatic and somewhat perplexed take.

Signed for £10.5m from Internazionale when Glenn Roeder was in charge, three years and four managers ago, Martins joined a club that was still in the Uefa Cup on this day in 2007.

"When I came to Newcastle, I came to play football and to enjoy myself," Martins said. "I never thought that this team could get relegated because there are enough good players. But now we are fourth-down [from bottom] everybody is... not scared, because we still have nine or 10 games left, but we look at each other and say: 'Something is not right'." Pressed to expand on this, Martins was vague and began to look uneasy.

It is a look Hull City know. Not only have they knocked out Newcastle from the FA Cup, on that momentous Tyneside day in September when the "Cockney Mafia Out" banner was being paraded around St James' Park as fans rebelled over the departure of Kevin Keegan, Hull won 2-1 with goals from Marlon King. Phil Brown loved it.

Newcastle's players looked shell-shocked that afternoon and their season has never recovered. Of the last 10 league games they have won one, and that was at West Bromwich Albion. In total only six games have been won so far and the last away day was a soulless 1-0 defeat at Bolton.

After that there was a rallying performance, though another defeat, against Manchester United at St James', and the confidence derived from that has to be offset against Hull's victory at Fulham the same night.

Even the fact that Owen is back has to be treated with caution. The England striker cannot be expected to be match-fit or penalty-box sharp after four full days training. But with Arsenal and Chelsea up next, Owen has to start getting there.

Three years and seven months on from his £16.5m transfer from Real Madrid, Owen has made only 62 Newcastle appearances. He is out of contract in June and will be free to leave the club – though Nicky Butt said recently that Owen is considering staying. But there is most definitely a feeling that Owen owes Newcastle precious goals.

At a combined £27m, he and Martins should be capable of taking the game to Hull today. And at least Martins offered some verbal defiance. "I do not think we are going to get relegated," he said. "I do not think so."

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