Demba Ba was the hero once again for Newcastle United this afternoon, as he struck twice to earn his side a point against Reading. The Royals took the lead twice through Jimmy Kebe and Noel Hunt, but Ba’s stunning volley and controversial late strike – which appeared to hit his hand on the way in – ensured Newcastle escaped an embarrassment at the Madejski.

The Magpies will treat this as two points dropped rather than one gained though, as they expected to brush aside a Reading side that propped up the Premier League table at the start of play. It may be a worrying sight for Alan Pardew that when one of his shining lights is missing, the Geordies fail to hit the heights that they do when they are at full strength.

Today, it was Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Coloccini that were missing and as a result, the visitors failed to control possession in the middle, whilst being harassed at the back more easily than normal. This led to Brian McDermott’s side taking control and creating the first chance of the game, when Pavel Pogrebnyak headed Jobi McAnuff’s cross towards goal, only for Steve Harper to tip over.

The effort was the only real opportunity of the first half as it went down as one that will easily be wiped from both sides’ memory banks, but the clash exploded into life just ten minutes into the second period.

When Steven Taylor was forced off with a calf injury and James Tavernier came on in his place, the goals started to fly. First, the home side went ahead when Jimmy Kebe cut inside from the right and snuck a shot inside Harper’s near post. However, their lead lasted less than a minute as Ba equalised in stunning fashion. Cheick Tiote lifted an excellent pass over and between the two centre backs and whilst watching it drop over his shoulder, Ba connected with an exquisite outside of the foot volley and easily beat Alex McCarthy.

With their tails up and the scores level, Newcastle tried to build on their play and take the game to Reading, but were stopped when the Royals took the lead for a second time. This time it was Noel Hunt on the end of a McAnuff cross and the Irish international glanced a header past Harper and gave his side a 2-1 lead with half an hour remaining. Hatem Ben Arfa had a good chance to draw his side level with a trademark run down the right wing, but his shot was saved by McCarthy after he had cut inside.

Finally, the game settled down and Newcastle’s lack of cutting edge made it look like the home side were going to hold on for their first win of the season but there was still time for late drama. Substitute Shane Ferguson crossed from the left and as Ba attempted to head home, the final touch came off the hand of the Senegal striker before going in. Reading’s protests were in vain and even Ba’s celebration – in which he pointed to his hand – didn’t convince the officials to rule out the strike.

The aggrieved home side almost snatched it late on in what would have been the most amazing finish imaginable, but Harper saved Jason Roberts’ shot to earn his side a point.

By Chief Sports Writer, Marley Anderson