Ben Arfa delighted to be out of the woods after victory at Forest

 

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The Independent Football

The Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa was a relieved man after ending his exile at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday. The 24-year-old Frenchman made his first competitive appearance for the club, since suffering a double leg fracture at Manchester City in October last year, in the 4-3 League Cup third-round win at the City Ground.

Ben Arfa, whose return was delayed further by an ankle ligament injury picked up in pre-season, lasted 70 minutes and showed flashes of the talent which persuaded Newcastle's manager, Alan Pardew, to tie up a permanent deal for him in January despite never having seen him play at first hand.

Ben Arfa told the Newcastle Evening Chronicle: "All the year I worked so hard to come back and I'm very happy to be on the pitch now. I'm very happy to see the supporters again and I thank them for all the encouragement last year. I feel very good. I have confidence and I feel I will do very good things now."

Ben Arfa was back on the bench by the time the real drama unfolded at Forest, with the tie having gone into extra time at 2-2. Danny Simpson's fluke third for the visitors looked to have seen them through, but Marcus Tudgay levelled with 115 minutes gone before the Newcastle captain, Fabricio Coloccini, headed home a winner at the death.

Aston Villa's manager, Alex McLeish, is looking for a positive response from his players after holding a "constructive" meeting in the aftermath of their 2-0 home League Cup defeat by Bolton Wanderers, also on Tuesday.

Villa were greeted with boos from their fans at the final whistle, even though it was their first loss of the campaign, goals from Chris Eagles and on-loan Chelsea player Gaël Kakuta having proved decisive at Villa Park.

McLeish did not appear to face the media for an hour after the match as he and his squad dissected a below-par performance. Bolton's goalkeeper Adam Bogdan made only one serious save – in the 87th minute and from a defender in James Collins.

When asked if there were "a few words spoken" afterwards, McLeish replied: "Yes, but it wasn't a shouting match. It was an adult conversation. I wanted to hear the views of the experienced players and it was constructive. It is a learning process for a lot of the younger players out there but the team have to bounce back.

"The experienced guys have done it so many times before, guys like Richard Dunne, so that's the reaction I'll be looking for. We know we are not Manchester United but we are trying to blood some young players and fast-track them to be Premier League players and be successful in cup competitions."

The major plus point for McLeish was the display of substitute Charles N'Zogbia, who has struggled to show his best form since moving from Wigan during the summer. "Charles came on and I thought he looked bright," the manager said. "We saw some end product from him, some good delivery. Charles just needed a wee break to think about things as well and he came on and gave us a great reaction."

McLeish will hope record signing Darren Bent will have recovered from a groin problem in time for Sunday'sPremier League match at QPR, but admits it is "touch and go". He said: "Darren is not as bad as first feared. But he is touch and go for the weekend, at this stage 50-50."

The Bolton manager Owen Coyle has a selection headache for the weekend trip to Arsenal after being impressed by some of the nine players he brought into the side at Villa, but said: "I think as a manager that is a problem you crave. You want to be picking a team because players are playing well, not because you've got three or four on song and the rest are out of sorts.

"A few of them have put themselves in real contention for the match at Arsenal on Saturday. David Ngog looked really lively up front, despite having to deal with two top centre-halves in James Collins and Richard Dunne. The two wide players, Chris Eagles and Gaël Kakuta, looked a threat all night. It looked a nice balance."

Coyle was also relieved to end a run of 13 goals conceded in the previous four games, saying: "The other big boost is that it was the first clean sheet we've had since the opening day of the season at QPR. That gives everyone confidence. If you can get the platform of those clean sheets, it gives you the basis to try to win games."

In Europe, the Swiss club Sion's hopes of regaining a place in the Europa League were dealt a blow when member associations of Uefa emphatically threw their weight behind the governing body's decision to expel Sion.

The club have been waging a battle in the Swiss courts to be reinstated to the competition following their expulsion for fielding ineligible players in their play-off tie against Celtic. On Tuesday last week Uefa's emergency panel dismissed a ruling from the district court in Vaud, Switzerland, that Sion should be allowed back into the competition, while last Thursday the same court ruled that the opening round of Europa League Group I fixtures, including a 2-0 defeat for Celtic at Atletico Madrid, was invalid.

The 53 Uefa member associations declared yesterday: "The independent sports justice system is the best guarantor of equality and fairness for all participants in sports.

"The European National Associations declare that any member of the football family which refuses to accept the rules of the competition should not participate in it."

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