By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At the Madejski Stadium
Reading 2 (Kebe 58, Hunt 62)
Newcastle United 2 (Ba 59, 83)
A Demba Ba double helped Newcastle twice come from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw away at Reading in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Senegalese scoring sensation has now netted six goals in just five starts this season, as the Magpies showed plenty of grit and determination in a tough encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
A dour first half saw chances few and far between, and no-one could have predicted what was to follow after the break as the teams shared three goals in the space of four minutes.
Jimmy Kebe struck the Royals in front before Ba instantly got United back on terms through a fine volley. And when Noel Hunt's header edged the hosts ahead once more, Ba was needed to nod home late on and grab a share of the spoils.
After dominating the opening exchanges in terms of possession, Newcastle created a half-chance in the 11th minute.
When Royals defenders Kaspars Gorkss missed his clearance on the halfway line, Ba was onto it like a flash and raced down the right flank before sending a miscued cross narrowly over the top, with Papiss Cisse lurking at the far post.
At the other end, Steven Taylor was forced to head behind a dangerous Jobi McAnuff delivery from the left, under pressure from Pavel Pogrebnyak.
It had been an unspectacular start to the match and took 24 minutes for the first shot of the afternoon, but Nicky Shorey's got his volley so badly wrong that it ended up out for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch.
Pogrebnyak then tried his luck on the half-volley from just inside the area, but blazed high and wide into the Magpies fans behind the goal.
Reading were growing in confidence and on the half-hour mark only a stunning one-handed save from Steve Harper prevented the hosts from breaking the deadlock.
McAnuff planted an in-swinging cross onto the head of Pogrebnyak at the far post, and it was heading for the top corner until the veteran keeper's fingertips somehow diverted the ball over the top for a corner.
Newcastle were being restricted to long-range efforts, with stand-in skipper Gutierrez first driving over the top from 25 yards, before Cisse repeated the feat with half-time approaching.
It was a nervy start to the second period, but with ten minutes gone Cisse managed to work a yard of space inside the box, only for his shot to blocked by the Reading defence as the Senegal international pulled the trigger.
And after so little action, the match suddenly sprung to life in the 58th minute.
Reading broke the deadlock when Kebe received the ball in a central position and - shaping to shoot into the far corner - managed to deceive both James Perch and Harper by putting a shot just inside the near upright.
However, the Magpies' response was immediate. Tiote floated a ball over the top of the home defence and Ba was onto it like a shot, firing a superb volley past McCarthy to notch his fifth goal of the season from just five starts.
The action wasn't done there though and the Royals snuck back in front on 62 minutes. McAnuff got down to the left byline and duly delivered a cross right into the danger zone which just evaded Pogrebnyak.
Hunt was sneaking in behind though and glanced a header down into the turf, which bounced up into the far corner past the despairing dive of Harper.
And they were almost immediately back on level terms as Hatem Ben Arfa drilled a low ball right across the face of goal which Reading only just diverted behind for a corner.
The equaliser finally arrived with seven minutes of the match remaining. Ba bagged his second of the afternoon, but it owed so much to youngster Ferguson, who put it on a plate for United's top scorer.
The Northern Ireland international was given acres of space on the left and quickly delivered a superb cross onto the head of Ba, whose header crept in despite the best efforts of McCarthy.
Newcastle were buoyed and Ben Arfa sent a 20-yard shot over the top as they pushed for an unlikely winner, but it was the Royals who almost snatched it with time ticking away.
Substitute Jason Roberts met fellow replacement Garath McCleary's low centre, but was denied by an outstanding stop from Harper, and as United failed to clear the loose ball, the same player then struck narrowly wide via a slight deflection.
McAnuff then drilled against the upright from distance, with the visitors heading straight up the other end and Ba striking well over the top from similar range.
But neither side was able to claim all three points and the Magpies were forced to settle for a hard-earned share of the spoils in Berkshire.
Reading (4-4-2): Alex McCarthy; Shaun Cummings, Adrian Mariappa, Kaspars Gorkss, Nicky Shorey; Jimmy Kebe (Garath McCleary 70), Mikele Leigertwood, Jem Karacan, Jobi McAnuff (c); Noel Hunt (Adam Le Fondre 86), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Jason Roberts 78)
Subs not used: Stuart Taylor, Alex Pearce, Danny Guthrie, Hal Robson-Kanu
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Steve Harper; James Perch, Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor (James Tavernier 56), Davide Santon; Hatem Ben Arfa, Gael Bigirimana (Shane Ferguson 69), Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez (c); Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse (Shola Ameobi 69)
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Bookings: Reading - none; Newcastle - Perch (44), Williamson (53), Gutierrez (73)
Attendance: 24,097 (2,076 Newcastle)