Ben Arfa rescues point for Toon
Newcastle 1 Aston Villa 1: Hatem Ben Arfa got Newcastle out of jail with a stunning equaliser as Aston Villa saw victory snatched from their grasp.
The France international blasted an unstoppable long-range shot past keeper Brad Guzan with 59 minutes gone to cancel out Ciaran Clark’s first-half opener on a day when the Magpies were all at sea for long periods.
Villa more than made a game of it with Tim Krul having to produce good saves to deny Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann, although Guzan hacked a 29th-minute Papiss Cisse shot off the line and claw out Yohan Cabaye’s injury-time free-kick in an eventful contest.
But Newcastle were at times a shadow of the side which mixed it with the Barclays Premier League’s big boys last season, much to the frustration of a crowd of 48,245.
Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent both might have won it at the death for the visitors, but the visitors eventually had to settle for a draw.
Villa arrived sitting at the foot of the table without a point from their first two games and with former Newcastle stalwart Shay Given relegated to a seat on the bench as a result. But if the Magpies thought the visitors were there for the taking, the belief proved horribly mistaken during the opening 45 minutes.
Paul Lambert’s men were up for the fight from the off and although Karim El Ahmadi in particular was perhaps a little over-zealous at times, they knocked the hosts out of their stride.
It was a strangely disjointed performance from Newcastle, who continue to miss Cheick Tiote’s influence in the middle of the park.
The service from wide-men Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez was decidedly sub-standard, and with front two Cisse and Demba Ba misfiring, Given’s replacement Guzan was rarely extended with last season’s swagger having seemingly deserted Pardew’s team.
Sunderland old boy Bent served warning of Villa’s intent with 19 minutes gone when he forced Krul into save, with Fabricio Coloccini blocking Weimann’s follow-up, and the keeper had to deny Bent again seconds later. But the home side did not heed the warning and were made to pay three minutes later when Barry Bannan was allowed time and space to cross from the left for Clark to head past the helpless Krul.
Steven Taylor bundled a Cabaye free-kick over the bar as the Magpies attempted to respond, but the home side were almost level with 29 minutes gone.
Ben Arfa’s right-wing corner was overhit, but Ba managed to pluck it out of the air and drill the ball back across goal, where Cisse’s shot seemed destined for the back of the net before Guzan somehow managed to keep it out with his foot.
Midfielder Vurnon Anita fired into the side-netting after Gutierrez had recycled the resulting corner to him on the edge of the box, but the Dutchman found himself having to change roles eight minutes later as Newcastle’s decision not to sign a defender during the transfer widow returned to haunt them.
Danny Simpson went down clutching his hamstring and with Ryan Taylor and James Perch already injured, Anita had to drop in at full-back.
Ba fired across goal seconds later as the Magpies finished the half strongly, but without troubling Guzan to any great extent.
Villa returned not only determined to hang on to their advantage, but to extend it if at all possible, and as the Magpies continued to labour, they looked the more likely to score.
As the home fans grew increasingly restless, Newcastle responded and Ben Arfa might have done better when he headed Anita’s 52-minute cross straight at Guzan.
Pardew had switched to a 4-3-3 formation before the break in an attempt to get Ben Arfa further forward, and the ploy eventually paid off with 59 minutes gone.
The Frenchman picked up possession on the left and cut inside before unleashing a searing drive which flew high past Guzan and into the top corner.
In the meantime, Krul had to pluck Ireland’s well-struck shot out of the air and then had to get down well to deny Weimann with Villa still very much in the game.
Ben Arfa had a chance to fire the Magpies ahead with 23 minutes remaining, but curled his free-kick harmlessly over the bar.
Ba went close with a looping header from substitute Gael Bigirimana’s 74th-minute cross, but Ireland passed up a glorious opportunity to win it six minutes later when he screwed his shot wide from 16 yards.
Bent was handed a similarly promising opening with six minutes left, but Bigirimana’s timely intervention kept him at bay before Guzan palmed out Cabaye’s last-ditch attempt.