Newcastle left the San Siro with what could prove to be a vital point after holding a dominant AC Milan to a 0-0 draw in their first Champions League game for over 20 years.
After qualifying for the group stages for the first time since the 2002/03 season, Eddie Howe’s side were rewarded with a place in Group F, alongside European luminaries Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, as well as last year’s semi-finalists Milan.
Such a daunting draw means any points collected away from St James’ Park are to be cherished – even if they come as a result of gritty defending and opposition wastefulness.
That was the case against Milan, who ended the game with an expected goals total of 2.06 but no actual goals, with Rafael Leao, Tommaso Pobega and Olivier Giroud all spurning chances.
Perhaps overawed on such a huge night for the club, Newcastle were second best throughout and only registered their first shot on target in second-half stoppage time. A more punchy performance surely awaits when PSG visit Tyneside next month.
AC Milan: Maignan (6), Calabria (6), Tomori (7), Thiaw (6), Hernandez (6), Loftus-Cheek (7), Krunic (6), Pobega (6), Chukwueze (6), Giroud (6), Leao (6).
Subs: Florenzi (7), Pulisic (6), Reijnders (6), Musah (6), Sportiello (n/a).
Newcastle: Pope (8), Trippier (7), Schar (7), Botman (7), Burn (6), Longstaff (6), Guimaraes (6), Tonali (6), Murphy (6), Isak (6), Gordon (5).
Subs: Wilson (6), Almiron (5), Anderson (6), Barnes (n/a).
Player of the match: Nick Pope
How nervy Newcastle kept out Milan
Nerves were understandable for Newcastle, who were last seen in the Champions League being beaten at home by Barcelona in March 2003 and were now making their return in one of Europe’s famous old stadiums.
Jacob Murphy, the winger handed a surprise start by Howe, displayed a broad grin as the Champions League anthem belted out before kick-off, perhaps suggesting Newcastle would relish the occasion.
- Newcastle made three changes, with Alexander Isak and Jacob Murphy replacing Callum Wilson and Harvey Barnes, while Sandro Tonali came in for Elliot Anderson against his former team
- AC Milan also changed three, with Fikayo Tomori, Tommaso Pobega and Samuel Chukwueze replacing Simon Kjaer, Tijjani Reijnders and Christian Pulisic
But the Magpies looked overawed for much of the first half and should have been several goals behind by half-time, with Nick Pope making four crucial saves.
Pobega was the first to be denied, pouncing on a Dan Burn error but seeing his powerful effort parried, before Samuel Chukwueze’s shot was blocked by Pope.
The goalkeeper then atoned for a weak punch by keeping out Giroud’s flicked shot, with an unmarked Theo Hernandez then seeing a header pushed over the crossbar.
Newcastle’s only moment of promise in the first half ended when Sean Longstaff was rightly denied a penalty after going down under pressure from Leao, who wasted Milan’s best chance when he tripped himself up attempting a backheel after finding himself on the edge of the six-yard box following a mazy run.
Pobega then saw the rebound cleared off the line by Murphy as Newcastle clung on before halting Milan’s momentum during a quiet second half.
The intensity Newcastle displayed on their way to securing a top-four finish in the Premier League last season was sorely lacking and the match looked to be drifting towards a draw when Leao again missed the target with a header.
But Newcastle finally summoned some attacking quality deep into stoppage time to set up Longstaff – the boyhood Newcastle supporter – but replacement goalkeeper Marco Sportiello tipped his powerful shot over and ensured the visitors did not leave with an undeserved victory.
Newcastle must learn quickly to emerge from gruelling group
Sky Sports football journalist Joe Shread:
The hype around Newcastle’s Champions League return had been building ever since they secured their top-four place in the spring, which is perhaps why this performance felt so underwhelming.
“Howe’s side can be excused for their limp performance given they fielded eight Champions League debutants, while it should not be forgotten that Milan reached the semi-finals of this competition just a few months ago.
“But it’s now just two wins from six games in all competitions for Newcastle, who haven’t played well since thrashing Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
“If they want to emerge from the toughest of the eight Champions League groups, Newcastle will have to show more than they mustered in Milan.”
Opta stats: Pope follows in Alisson’s footsteps
- Newcastle’s Nick Pope, who made his Champions League debut, recorded eight saves, the most for a goalkeeper while keeping a clean sheet in their first game in the competition since Alisson for Roma against Atletico Madrid in September 2017. Indeed, he’s the first English goalkeeper to record a shutout in his first such start since Fraser Forster in September 2012.
- This was Newcastle boss Eddie Howe’s first game as a manager in the Champions League, making him the 10th Englishman to manage in the competition. Only two have won their first game (D3 L5) – Craig Shakespeare with Leicester in March 2017 and Michael Carrick with Manchester United in November 2021.
- Milan’s 25 shots (nine on target) was their most in a Champions League game without scoring since recording 27 against PSV in October 2005 (13 on target).
- Eight different players made their Champions League debut for Newcastle tonight (Wilson, Burn, Pope, Murphy, Almiron, Longstaff, Anderson and Gordon) – the last English side to have more debutants was Leicester against Club Brugge in September 2016 (10).
AC Milan return to action in Serie A on Saturday at home to Verona, kick-off 2pm (BST). Their next Champions League Group F fixture is at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday October 4, kick-off 8pm.
Newcastle head to Sheffield United in the Premier League on Sunday, live on Sky Sports at 4.30pm. Their next Champions League match is at home to Paris Saint-Germain on October 4 at 8pm.