Martins absence adds to Keegan's striking shortage

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The Independent Football

Obafemi Martins' agent yesterday spoke of the Newcastle United striker's devastation at the death of his mother. The 23-year-old Nigeria international has flown home to be with his family after being given a period of compassionate leave by his club.

Chris Nathaniel said: "As you would expect, Oba is extremely upset at the moment. This has come as a massive shock to him and his family. His mother was a guiding light to him and had a strong influence on his life.

"At this difficult time for Oba and the family, it is important they are allowed to mourn their loss in private, and I hope the media allows them to do this."

Martins has been withdrawn from the Newcastle squad for today's friendly trip to Doncaster and could miss next week's Mallorca Summer Cup matches against Hertha Berlin and Real Mallorca.

A club spokesman said: "Oba has flown back to Nigeria on compassionate grounds to be with his family at what is a very sad time for them. Everyone at the club extends their greatest sympathies to Oba and his relatives."

Newcastle's manager, Kevin Keegan, finds himself drastically short of strikers as his side's pre-season campaign gathers pace. Michael Owen is recovering from mumps and Mark Viduka and Andy Carroll are both injured.

Martins looked sharp in a 4-1 win at Hartlepool last weekend and his manager will hope he returns having lost little match fitness. PSV Eindhoven and Valencia are due to come to St James' Park for friendly fixtures before Newcastle's Premier League season gets under way on 17 August with a trip to Old Trafford to face the champions, Manchester United.

Martins, a former Internazionale player, has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Tyneside this summer, with Arsenal reported to be among his admirers. He has spoken, however, of his desire to build on a blossoming relationship with the North-eastern club's fans.

Keegan, influenced by his shortage up front, has challenged Newcastle's youngsters to play their way into his plans at Doncaster while the club's executive director (football), Dennis Wise, and his team are attempting to add to the signings of Jonas Gutierrez and Danny Guthrie.

Keegan said after the victory over Hartlepool at Victoria Park that he was looking for four key players during the remaining month or so of the summer transfer window.

Keegan will use today's game at Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium as an opportunity to blood some of his younger squad members and some who have not featured heavily in the first team for some time.

He said: "It's a chance for the lads to say to me, 'I want to be in that team come the start of the season.' It's a new opportunity for everybody.

"There are two or three [players] at this club who feel they have not had a pre-season for two or three years because of circumstances beyond their control. [The Irish winger] Damien Duff is a prime example of that, and he was fantastic at Hartlepool last week."