Martins ready to replace injured Owen

November 19, 2007

Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins is ready to take over Michael Owen's mantle as the England man faces another spell on the sidelines.

The Magpies were today still coming to terms with the prospect of their £17million man having to sit out for up to six weeks after his injury jinx struck once again just five club games into his latest comeback.

Owen damaged a thigh muscle in his country's 1-0 friendly win in Austria on Friday night, and will now be a helpless spectator as Steve McClaren's men attempt to secure their passage to Euro 2008 against Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday evening.

But 24 hours earlier, manager Sam Allardyce will hope Martins comes through Nigeria's game in Switzerland unscathed as he prepares to restore him to his starting line-up for Liverpool's Barclays Premier League visit to St James' Park on Saturday.

The £10million former Inter Milan frontman, who scored 17 goals in his first season on Tyneside, has started just eight games so far this season and has appeared only as a substitute in the last two.

However, the 23-year-old could prove a key figure during Owen's absence before heading off on African Nations Cup duty for up to six weeks.

Martins said: 'I feel I have been accepted here - I love the fans and I think they love me. I want to stay here for a few years, I think.

'The only thing I can do is keep scoring for them because it is so important to the fans.

'Getting goals and getting three points means a lot to the people here, and I have to work hard to help do that.'

Martins has had to remain patient so far this season with Owen, Mark Viduka, Shola Ameobi and at times, Alan Smith also competing for places in attack and youngster Andy Carroll, currently on loan at Preston, waiting in the wings.

He remains the club's leading scorer for the campaign with five goals to date, and will hope to add significantly to that total over the coming weeks whoever he is asked to play alongside.

He said: 'It is really good playing up front with Michael, but it is up to the manager who plays.

'I will play with anybody. It is okay, I don't mind whether it is Michael, Mark Viduka, Shola Ameobi, Alan Smith or Andy Carroll.

'We have many good strikers to play with here and I enjoy playing with them all.'

Martins' absence during the New Year will come as a blow to Allardyce, who had his scouts at the Ramat Gan Stadium at the weekend to run the rule over Russia's playmaker Andrei Arshavin.

The Zenit St Petersburg star very nearly inspired his side to victory over Israel before Omer Golan's late strike revived England's hopes of qualification.

But whether or not Newcastle decide to attempt to push home their interest in the 26-year-old, Martins will leave a gap and he admits he regrets having to miss so much football for his club.

He said: 'The national team in Nigeria is totally different for me.

'I have to play - I think it is my duty and if I did not go, it would cause a lot of problems.

'There is no reason not to - but I will miss playing at Newcastle.'

Meanwhile, Israel defender Tal Ben-Haim's performance against Russia will not have gone unnoticed on Tyneside by the man who brought him into English football.

Allardyce tried to sign the 25-year-old, who played under him at Bolton, during the summer, only to be beaten to the punch by Chelsea.

However, the former Maccabi Tel Aviv player has found his chances limited at Stamford Bridge under new boss Avram Grant, and the Magpies are being linked with a another approach as the January transfer window approaches.