Reading were denied a first win of their Premier League return as Demba Ba controversially equalised with his hand late on in a 2-2 draw at the Madejski Stadium.
After a very forgettable first half, four goals in four minutes saw Reading twice take the lead through Jimmy Kebe and Noel Hunt, with Newcastle levelling at 1-1 courtesy of a stunning volley from Ba.
Reading had numerous chances to add a cushion in a superb second-half display, but Brian McDermott’s side were denied the three points as Ba bundled the ball home with his hand from inside the Royals box to claim a dramatic and dubious equaliser - his sixth goal in as many games.
It was almost miserable return to his former club for Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, whose touchline ban had expired, but Reading were denied only their second win in 12 Premier League matches as it finished all square with the hosts remaining bottom of the table with just two points on the board.
Reading captain Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood both returned to the starting line-up after missing the Capital One Cup win at QPR, while Newcastle gave a first Premier League start to Gael Bigirimana ahead of Vurnon Anita, while Cheick Tiote retained his place after his midweek performance against Manchester United.
Tiote looked in trouble after he was caught by a horrible challenge from Leigertwood which the referee did not spot, but eventually the Newcastle midfielder got gingerly to his feet and was able to continue.
The hosts finally carved out a decent opportunity as McAnuff and Nicky Shorey exchanged passes, before a deep cross to Pavel Pogrebnyak picked out the imposing forward perfectly, and a firm header had to be tipped over the crossbar by Steve Harper at full stretch.
Defender Mike Williamson did very well to dispossess Pogrebnyak before releasing Ba, who played in Papiss Cisse, but the shot from his strike partner was wild and well over the crossbar from the edge of the Reading box.
One further clear-cut opportunity was carved out on the stroke of half-time as James Perch, who had been booked just seconds before, produced an impeccable interception to prevent Pogrebnyak from surely putting his side in front with just Harper to beat. It was an inspired intervention from the full-back.
A long punt upfield from Steve Harper picked out Cisse, only for Kaspars Gorkss to make a brilliant challenge to prevent the forward from getting a shot away inside the Reading box.
Newcastle would pay for their profligacy in front of goal as Reading made an incisive break from deep: McAnuff slid a precise ball inside from the left flank, and Kebe showed real poise to pick out the near corner of the net with Harper flat-footed to give his side the lead.
Just seconds after Kebe had broken the deadlock, Newcastle were back level. Tiote picked out Ba with a raking diagonal ball, and the striker thundered home an emphatic volley to give goalkeeper Alex McCarthy no chance. It was a stunning strike, and his fifth league goal of the season.
The game refused to settle back down, and Reading were not to be denied as Hunt ghosted in front of two Newcastle defenders to head past Harper as McAnuff was crucially allowed to whip over a devilish delivery from the left with Hatem Ben Arfa giving him far too much space. Hunt’s first Premier League goal restored his side’s lead with the fourth goal in five minutes.
Newcastle came very close to levelling once more late on as Ben Arfa raced down the right and cut inside before firing a low shot towards the near post, but McCarthy produced a superb save with his legs to deny the winger.
But they did draw level with eight minutes left on the clock as substitute Shane Ferguson whipped over a pinpoint cross from the left, and Ba controversially bundled the ball home using his hand. It looked to be unintentional, but referee Andre Mariner and his assistants missed it and Reading were left to feel aggrieved.
Reading perhaps should have salvaged all three points in the dying moments of the match as substitute Jason Roberts forced his way into the box and headed on target, only for Harper to parry the ball wide with an excellent reflex save.
In stoppage time, McAnuff jinked inside Williamson and beat Harper all ends up with a sublime curled effort, only to be denied by the far post as Reading had to settle for a point despite an inspired second-half performance. McDermott's side will no doubt feel very aggrieved.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jobi McAnuff – Reading: The Royals skipper produced a commanding performance in the second half to all but inspire his side to victory, only for Ba’s cruel late blow. The midfielder almost grabbed a winner with an exquisite curled effort late on, and was at the forefront of everything positive for the hosts.
READING: McCarthy 7, Cummings 7, Shorey 6, Mariappa 6, Gorkss 7, Karacan 6, Leigertwood 6, Kebe 7, McAnuff 8, Hunt 6, Pogrebnyak 6. Subs: McCleary 6, Le Fondre 6, Roberts 6.
NEWCASTLE: Harper 7, Perch 5, Williamson 7, S. Taylor 5, Santon 6, Ben Arfa 6, Tiote 6, Bigirimana 6, Gutierrez 6, Ba 8, Cisse 5. Subs: Tavernier 6, Ferguson 7, Shola Ameobi 6.
- Demba Ba
- Premier League