Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has hit out at the agents who distracted his players during the transfer window with talk of big-money moves after his side's 1-1 Barclays Premier League draw with Aston Villa at St James' Park on Sunday afternoon.
The likes of Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba were linked with summer moves away from Tyneside, none of which materialised as the club held firm. Pardew believes at least some of his side's lacklustre early season form can be attributed to what was going on behind the scenes before Friday's transfer deadline.
He said: "I have some sympathy for players because if people or agents - and not necessarily their own agent, a different agent - call them and offer them double their money, it's going to affect you."
In the event, it was one of those players, Ben Arfa, who rescued a point for Newcastle with a trademark stunning strike.
Villa had taken a deserved lead through Ciaran Clark's 22nd-minute header with the home side lacking any real cohesion. But the Frenchman took it upon himself to drag them back into the game with 59 minutes played when he cut in from the left and smashed a right-foot shot high past keeper Brad Guzan and into the top corner.
Pardew said: "Hatem is a wonderfully-gifted footballer. I didn't actually realise it was his right foot until I just watched the replay because I didn't expect him to hit it with that power. He has got exceptional power in amongst all his technique and as I say, he has been our best player from the start of the season."
Opposite number Paul Lambert left the North East delighted with the efforts of his players after they collected their first point of the season following a tough start.
He said: "I thought we were well worthy of it, to be perfectly honest. We came here, a really difficult place to play with the crowd right on Newcastle's side. The young lads were excellent throughout the game. It took a wonder-goal to pin us back and we also had really good chances to win the game. But I was delighted with the way they played, they were very, very good."
Lambert took the bold decision to drop 36-year-old keeper Shay Given and replace him with Guzan, although the American fully justified his inclusion with fine saves from Papiss Cisse before the break and Cabaye at the death.
The manager said: "Any decision you make to leave anybody out is really, really tough. Shay is a world-class goalkeeper and has been for the last 15 years, but I made a decision I thought was right for the football club and the two saves Brad made, one in the first half and the free-kick at the end, were world class."