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Newcastle claim hard-fought draw
Hatem Ben Arfa passed up a golden opportunity to celebrate his 26th birthday in style as Newcastle claimed a hard-fought 0-0 Europa League draw against Anzhi Makhachkala in Moscow.
The Frenchman, making his first appearance since tearing a hamstring at Fulham on December 10, was played in on goal by compatriot Yohan Cabaye with 64 minutes gone, but could not beat goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov with an ambitious chipped effort.
An away goal would have seen the Magpies take a significant step towards the quarter-finals, although had keeper Rob Elliot, once again deputising for the injured Tim Krul, not made two excellent saves from Samuel Eto'o either side of half-time, Anzhi Makhachkala could have been heading for St James' Park next week with a lead to defend.
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was without six members of his strongest side with Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Mathieu Debuchy, Jonas Gutierrez, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse left behind for a variety of reasons, and he chose to leave Steven Taylor, Davide Santon and Cheick Tiote sitting on the bench.
In the circumstances, it was perhaps not surprising that the visitors failed to muster a single effort on target during the opening 45 minutes. But to Pardew's delight, Anzhi were little more threatening in a half which did little to excite a sparsely-populated stadium.
Newcastle's cause was helped in no small part by £30million Brazilian Willian's premature departure through injury.
In the 23 minutes he was on the pitch, he looked the man most likely to cause the Magpies problems, feeding a telling 14th-minute pass into the path of Shatov to prompt a timely intervention by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and then drilling and shooting from a tight angle well wide seconds later.
After the break, Newcastle mounted a rare cohesive attack as Moussa Sissoko found Ben Arfa and then set off in anticipation of a return pass, but central defender Santos Ewerton stepped in.
Elliot turned Eto'o's skidding 61st-minute drive around the post, and Oleg Shatov acrobatically fired wide from the resulting corner.
But Ben Arfa was handed a glorious opportunity to give the visitors the lead three minutes later when he was played in by Cabaye, but saw his chipped effort easily blocked by Gabulov. It proved to be the France international's final act of the night as he was replaced by European specialist Shola Ameobi.