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Ben Arfa rescues draw for Newcastle
Hatem Ben Arfa got Newcastle out of jail with a stunning equaliser as Aston Villa saw victory snatched from their grasp as the match ended 1-1.
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.
Sunderland old boy Bent served warning of Villa's intent with 19 minutes gone when he forced Krul into a 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.
The home side were almost level with 29 minutes gone. Ben Arfa's corner was overhit, but Demba 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 saved.
Villa returned in the second half 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.
Newcastle manager Alan 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 Stephen 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, before Guzan palmed out Cabaye's last-ditch attempt.