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Newcastle claim a draw from mission to Moscow
10:43am Friday 8th March 2013 in Sport
HATEM BEN ARFA passed up a golden opportunity to celebrate his 26th birthday in style as Newcastle claimed a hard-fought Europa League draw in Moscow.
The Frenchman, making his first appearance since tearing a hamstring at Fulham on December 10, was played in on goal by compatriot Yohan Cabaye with 64 minutes gone, but could not beat goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov with an ambitious chipped effort.
An away goal would have seen the Magpies take a significant step toward the quarter- finals, although had keeper Rob Elliot, once again deputising for the injured Tim Krul, not made two excellent saves from Samuel Eto’o either side of half-time, Anzhi Makhachkala could have been heading for St James’ Park with a lead to defend.
In the event, Alan Pardew would have been the happier of the two managers after seeing his much-changed side cope with the artificial pitch and plummeting temperatures at the Luzhniki Stadium to deny the hosts a home victory in Europe for the first time in eight attempts this season, and give themselves every chance of progressing.
However, he will need no reminding that Metalist Kharkiv left Tyneside last month with a 0-0 first leg draw, but did not make it through to the last 16.
Pardew was without six members of his strongest side with Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Mathieu Debuchy, Jonas Gutierrez, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse left behind for a variety of reasons, and he chose to leave Steven Taylor, Davide Santon and Cheick Tiote sitting on the bench.
That meant fielding a starting XI without a single recognised striker as Ben Arfa was asked to lead the line.
In the circumstances, it was perhaps not surprising that the visitors failed to muster a single effort on target during the opening 45 minutes.
But to Pardew’s delight, Anzhi were little more threatening in a half which did little to excite a sparsely-populated stadium.
Newcastle’s cause was helped in no small part by £30m Brazilian Willian’s departure through injury.
In the 23 minutes he was on the pitch, he looked the man most likely to cause problems, Eto’o was left appealing in vain for handball against Massadio Haidara after breaking from his own half with Hungarian referee Istvan Vad unmoved.
Newcastle featured as an attacking threat only fleetingly with Gabriel Obertan keeping full-back Andrei Eschenko occupied, but without looking like opening the home side up.
In the event, it was Elliot who made the game’s first save five minutes before the break, tipping Eto’o’s dipping drive from distance over the bar.
Ben Arfa was handed a glorious opportunity to give the visitors the lead when he was played in, but saw his chipped effort blocked by Gabulov.
It proved to be the France international’s final act as he was replaced by European specialist Shola Ameobi.
Eto’o blazed a long-range free-kick high and wide as his frustration started to show, but it took a good block by Eschenko to keep stop Sylvain Marveaux’s long-range effort.
Elliot had to field a scuffed effort from Eto’o as time ran down – and the visitors held on.
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