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Ba's controversial double secures Newcastle a point
DEMBA Ba grabbed his fifth and sixth goals of the season as Newcastle twice came from behind to claim a 2-2 draw at Reading.
It was the second away game in succession in which the Magpies twice overhauled a deficit to claim a point, and on both occasions, Ba was the player grabbing a brace.
However, today's draw proved hugely controversial as Newcastle's Senegalese striker converted his second goal with his arm from inside the six-yard box.
His first strike, a magnificent first-time volley, cancelled out Jimmy Kebe's opener, but it was his second, which brought Newcastle level again after Noel Hunt had restored Reading's lead, that proved the major talking point of an entertaining afternoon at the Madejski Stadium.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew handed a first Premier League start to Gael Bigirimana as he returned to Reading nine years after leaving the club to join West Ham.
Bigirimana was preferred to Vurnon Anita as he lined up alongside Cheik Tiote, and the Burundi-born youngster looked composed and assured from the outside.
He helped restrict Reading to a handful of chances in a first half that saw both teams struggle to carve out clear-cut openings.
It was the 24th minute until Reading full-back Nicky Shorey fired in the first attempt at goal, a wayward effort that eventually went out for a throw in, and Steve Harper was not called into action until the half-hour mark.
He produced a decent save when he was eventually tested though, tipping Pavel Pogrebnyak's header over the crossbar after the Russian met a cross from Mikele Leigertwood.
Newcastle's first effort came in the 36th minute, with Jonas Gutierrez firing a long-range effort over the crossbar, and while Papiss Cisse curled well wide shortly after, the best chance of the opening period went to Reading in stoppage time.
Pogrebnyak looked certain to meet Hunt's cross in the six-yard box, but James Perch produced an excellent sliding challenge to prevent the striker getting his shot away.
Perch spent the first half playing at right-back, but he was forced to move inside in the 56th minute when Steven Taylor was forced off through injury.
It is hardly a co-incidence that two minutes later, Newcastle were behind.
Jobi McAnuff played the ball into Kebe from the left-hand side, and the Reading winger shuffled his way inside Perch before drilling a crisp low strike past Harper.
Newcastle needed to regroup, and remarkably, they found themselves back on levels terms within less than a minute as Ba scored his fifth Premier League of the season.
It was unquestionably the best, with the Senegal international watching intently as Cheik Tiote's through ball dropped over his shoulder before unleashing a ferocious first-time volley that ripped into the net.
That should have been the cue for a spell of calm, but Reading made it three goals in the space of four minutes as they regained the lead.
Newcastle's defending could be questioned again, with Perch failing to keep tabs on Hunt as he sprinted across the six-yard box to head home McAnuff's left-wing cross.
The Magpies spent most of the final 20 minutes defending in their own half, but they grabbed a dramatic and controversial equaliser with seven minutes left.
Shane Ferguson crossed from the left, and Ba converted his sixth goal of the season from close range with his arm.
There were no strong appeals from the Reading players, but television replays clearly showed that Ba had used his arm rather than his head to score.
The goal secured Newcastle a point, but they were indebted to Harper for an excellent late save as he tipped Jason Roberts' shot around the post.
Another there was another late scare for the Magpies in stoppage time as McAnuff crashed a 20-yard strike against the right-hand upright.
READING (4-4-2): McCarthy; Cummings, Mariappa, Gorkss, Shorey; Kebe (McCleary 70), Karacan, Leigertwood, McAnuff; Hunt (Le Fondre 85), Pogrebnyak (Roberts 77).
Subs (not used): Taylor (gk), Pearce, Robson-Kanu, Guthrie.
NEWCASTLE (4-4-2): Harper; Perch, S Taylor (Tavernier 56), Williamson, Santon; Ben Arfa, Tiote, Bigirimana (Ferguson 70), Gutierrez; Ba, Cisse (Shola Ameobi 70).
Subs (not used): Elliot (gk), Anita, Obertan, Sammy Ameobi.