FRANCE MIDFIELDER HATEM BEN ARFA rescued a point for Newcastle with a superb equaliser in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Aston Villa at St James’ Park.
Alan Pardew’s side were trailing to Ciaran Clark’s first-half opener until Ben Arfa’s moment of magic on the hour ensured a share of the spoils, despite an erratic display from the hosts.
Villa manager Paul Lambert finally secured his first point since arriving from Norwich in pre-season, but he will be disappointed his team didn’t win as they had dominated for long periods.
Villa arrived bottom the table after their first two games and Lambert took a gamble by dropping Irish goalkeeper Shay Given following his error-prone start to the season.
Darren Bent served warning of Villa’s intent with 19 minutes gone when he forced Tim Krul to save, with Fabricio Coloccini blocking Andreas Weimann’s follow-up, and the Newcastle goalkeeper had to deny Bent again seconds later.
Villa took the lead in the 22nd minute as Clark stooped to head home Barry Bannan’s cross with the Newcastle defence caught flat-footed.
Pardew’s men almost equalised when Demba Ba drilled a cross towards Papiss Demba Cisse, whose shot seemed destined for the back of the net before Given’s replacement Brad Guzan somehow managed to keep it out with his foot.
To cap a frustrating half, Newcastle lost defender Danny Simpson to injury and Ba then fired across goal when well placed.
But 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.
Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland wasted a golden opportunity to win it when he screwed his shot wide from 16 yards.
Bent also had a good sight of goal with six minutes left, but Gael Bigirimana’s timely intervention kept him at bay.