Teacher met former pupil at the Madejski Stadium yesterday, Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, having given Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, his first big break in the game at the Berkshire club. Honours finished even, as Reading continue to learn their trade in the Premier League, but perhaps a touch of "cribbing" went on undetected at the back of the classroom before the lesson had ended. Andre Marriner, the referee, did not spot it but, with Newcastle trailing 2-1 and only seven minutes left, Demba Ba missed a header from Shane Ferguson's cross and clearly used his right wrist to guide in the equaliser. Few Reading players noticed it either – and it was perhaps unintentional – but Ba's somewhat sheepish celebration, of his sixth goal in as many matches, suggested that the ball-to-wrist interpretation was correct.
"It is disappointing to say the least," said McDermott, who Pardew appointed as Reading chief scout and Under-17 coach in 2000. "The ball was going out of play," added McDermott. "I don't know if it was deliberate but Ba definitely handled it. He went to head it but didn't. Every angle in the world shows it. Unfortunately, the referee didn't get it right. He will probably say 'sorry I missed it' and I am sure he will be when he sees it later. The fourth official said something about not too many players appealing. The goalkeeper appealed straight away but that is not what we are about, we don't want players jumping up and down.
"It was a shame because we'd played with a great tempo and identity. We have 33 games left and that's the way we have to keep playing."
Pardew, who managed Reading from 1999 to 2003 and has just been awarded an eight-year contract at Newcastle, concurred with his former apprentice. "At the time, I thought Demba had headed it," Pardew said. "But someone pointed it out to me at the end and, after seeing it again, it definitely hits his arm. He got a little touch on the ball, it hit his arm, then a defender, then went in. On a personal level, I feel sorry for Brian. Reading deserved to win." After a first half of mostly numbing mediocrity, the match exploded into life with a three-goal salvo in five minutes. Jimmy Kebe wrongfooted Steve Harper with a scuffed shot to give Reading the lead, Ba equalised straight away with a fierce volley on the run, then Noel Hunt cleverly nodded Reading back in front.
Reading should have held on for their first league win of the season and could yet have won near the end, Harper saving superbly from Jason Roberts, and Jobi McAnuff striking a post. But Ba's late intervention had proved crucial. For Reading. . . Ba humbug, indeed.
Reading (4-4-2): McCarthy; Cummings, Mariappa, Gorkss, Shorey; Kebe (McCleary, 70), Karacan, Leigertwood, McAnuff; Hunt (Le Fondre, 86), Pogrebnyak (Roberts, 77).
Newcastle (4-1-3-2): Harper; Perch, Williamson, Taylor (Tavernier, 56), Santon; Tiote; Ben Arfa, Bigirimana (Ferguson, 70), Gutierrez; Cisse (Sh Ameobi, 69), Ba. Referee: Andre Marriner.
Man of the match: Pogrebnyak (Reading)
Match rating: 7/10