ALAN Pardew has admitted a clutch of his Newcastle United players are still struggling for form.
Yesterday’s draw with Villa came on the back of a largely unconvincing display, a point being salvaged by Hatem Ben Arfa’s stunning 59th-minute goal.
Newcastle were poor before the break, and France international Yohan Cabaye – who talked of being “fatigued” after Euro 2012 – struggled to make an impression on the game.
Papiss Demba Cisse – who was a revelation in the second half of last season – was also a peripheral figure.
However, Pardew, while acknowledging some of his players are yet to reach their normal levels, refused to single out individuals.
“You could say that about four or five of our players, ” Pardew said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put that on Yohan.
“We looked flat. We actually looked brilliant in training, and I really thought we were going to have a great day. That is football for you – it never pans out for you.”
Villa took the lead when Barry Bannan was allowed time and space to cross from the left for Ciaran Clark to head past the helpless Tim Krul.
Newcastle were labouring but drew level when Ben Arfa was not closed down on the edge of the box and unleashed a searing drive which flew high past Guzan and into the top corner.
Ben Arfa had a chance to fire the Magpies ahead with 23 minutes remaining, but curled his free-kick harmlessly over the bar.
Stephen Ireland passed up a glorious opportunity to win the game when he screwed his shot wide from 16 yards.
And Darren 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.
Newcastle: Krul, Simpson (Bigirimana 38), Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Santon, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Anita, Gutierrez (Marveaux 86), Ba (Obertan 87), Cisse. Subs Not Used: Harper, Williamson, Gosling, Amalfitano. Booked: Gutierrez. Goals: Ben Arfa 59.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Lichaj, Bannan, El Ahmadi (N’Zogbia 72), Ireland, Weimann (Agbonlahor 64), Holman, Bent. Subs Not Used: Given, Bowery, Baker, Burke, Williams. Booked: El Ahmadi, Guzan, Lichaj, Holman. Goals: Clark 22.
Att: 48, 245 Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).