Newcastle’s European dream over as Samuel Chukwueze bails out Milan

<span>Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters

It was good while it lasted but Newcastle’s European odyssey is over. On a night of wildly oscillating emotions on Tyneside Samuel Chukwueze stepped off the Milan substitutes bench and promptly scored with his first touch to send the Serie A side into the Europa League as Eddie Howe’s horizons contracted.

The reality that there will be no more midweek trips to the continent, at least this season, for Howe’s ultimately exhausted players came as a nasty shock to disconsolate Newcastle fans at the end of an evening Milan spent largely on the back foot being bullied by the initially excellent Joelinton and co.

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When Joelinton swept Newcastle into the lead a place in the last 16 of the Champions League beckoned but, in the end, Paris Saint-Germain’s draw at Dortmund was sufficient to clinch the Ligue 1 side that slot.

Even so, a draw would have been enough for Newcastle to make the Europa League but, after Christian Pulisic equalised for Stefano Pioli’s side, fatigue began disrupting the ferocity of Howe’s intense high press and Rafael Leão and friends sensed opportunity.

When Leão missed a sitter it looked to have passed Milan by but then Pioli made a highly inspired trio of substitutions and all three newcomers featured in the winner with Luka Jovic and Noah Okafor heavily involved in the elegant passing move which led to Chukwueze sweeping the ball beyond Martin Dubravka a minute later.

All the pre-match talk had centred on Loris Karius, Newcastle’s third‑choice goalkeeper, potentially making a first Champions League appearance since his calamitous display in the 2018 final for Liverpool. Instead Dubravka passed a late fitness test, leaving Karius to take his place on a slimline home substitutes bench featuring only seven players.

It reflected a St James’ Park injury crisis which has now led to Newcastle losing three successive matches, but it failed to deter their manager from demanding that his team “come out with all guns blazing”.

They did not disappoint, persistently forcing Milan into defensive blind alleys and attacking cul-de-sacs as Pioli paced his technical area in increasingly agitated manner.

Yet as much as Milan’s defence remained slightly ersatz – Fikayo Tomori was their only fit specialist centre-half – Newcastle’s initial attacking sound and fury did not amount to quite as much as it promised. Although Mike Maignan looked suitably relieved when Kieran Trippier failed to apply quite sufficient dip to a dangerously positioned free-kick, Pioli’s goalkeeper was not worked as hard as Howe might have hoped.

Or at least not until he was beaten by Joelinton’s shot only for the excellent Tomori to intercept courtesy of a fabulous block just as the onrushing Miguel Almirón shaped to tap over the line.

Howe may not have been best pleased that, rather than shoot instantly right-footed, Almirón waited for the loose ball to drop on to his left, prefacing Tomori’s intervention.

Dubravka, meanwhile, remained virtually untested as Olivier Giroud and company struggled to stretch Newcastle’s convalescent keeper. Although Leão, Milan’s gifted Portugal left winger, periodically showed off his destabilising change of pace, on one occasion tricking Trippier before curling wide, he often seemed to represent a one‑man counter‑attacking threat.

For protracted periods Newcastle were unrecognisable from the team that conceded seven goals in their previous two games against Everton and Tottenham. At times Milan simply did not know how to handle them and struggled to establish any semblance of a passing rhythm.

Hats off to the 17-year-old academy graduate Lewis Miley whose characteristically smart pass paved the way for Joelinton to nearly lift the roof off the stadium by shooting Newcastle into a deserved 33rd-minute lead.

After taking a steadying touch, Joelinton’s ensuing shot from the edge of the area flew, inexorably, beyond Maignan. Howe’s left-sided midfielder joined Newcastle as a £40m centre-forward and delighted in reminding everyone precisely why scouts once saw him as a new Alan Shearer.

Milan temporarily became so unnerved that they resorted increasingly to optimistic long balls while Maignan was so annoyed with a perceived lack of protection that he argued long and hard with the referee even after collecting a booking for dissent.

If the visiting goalkeeper had reason not to relish being clattered by Joelinton, his over-reaction seemed a microcosm of the simmering tensions within a Serie A club where the American owners have just parachuted Zlatan Ibrahimovic in as a special adviser.

Ibrahimovic would surely have polished off the decent shooting chance spurned early in the second half by Wilson but the former Milan and Sweden striker may have detected faint reasons for hope in the manner Newcastle finally began to struggle to sustain their early tempo and Pioli’s players belatedly enjoyed a bit of possession as the second half wore on.

When? Monday, 11am. Each group winner is paired with a runner-up, but teams from same qualifying group or country are kept apart.
Group winners: Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, Atlético Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona
Runners-up Copenhagen, Internazionale, Napoli, PSV Eindhoven,
RB Leipzig, Lazio, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto

Suddenly even the outstanding Joelinton began to look human after all. How Howe must have wished Sandro Tonali, his former Milan midfielder, was not serving a 10-month suspension for contraventions of Italian betting regulations.

Newcastle’s manager frowned after Pulisic equalised at the end of a move involving Tomori connecting with Leão’s deep cross only to miscue an attempted shot. No matter; Giroud slid the ball across goal for Pulisic to apply the finishing touch from six yards to make it 1-1.

Despite Maignan performing wonders to somehow tip Bruno Guimarães’s gloriously curving shot on to the crossbar, Leão, clean through, shot fractionally wide with the goal at his mercy. He thought he had blown Milan’s chances, but Chukwueze had other ideas.