Newcastle United 1 - 1 Aston Villa: Paul Lambert’s Villa claim first point

SCOTLAND midfielder Barry Bannan was prominent in an improved performance from Aston Villa, but Paul Lambert’s side had to settle for a point after a stunning second-half equaliser from Hatem Ben Arfa.

Scorers: Newcastle United - Ben Arfa (59); Aston Villa - Clark (22)

Attendance: 48,245

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The France international blasted a long-range shot past keeper Brad Guzan with 59 minutes gone to cancel out 
Ciaran Clark’s first-half opener, which was set up by Bannan. Villa more than made a game of it, with Tim Krul having to produce good saves to deny Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann. Newcastle were at times a shadow of the side which mixed it with the Premier League’s big boys last season. Stephen Ireland and Darren Bent both might have won it at the death for the visitors.

Villa had arrived sitting at the foot of the table without a point from their first two games under Lambert but, if the Magpies thought the visitors were there for the taking, the belief proved mistaken during the opening 45 minutes. 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. 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 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 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.

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 Vurnon Anita 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. 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.