Newcastle United held AC Milan to a goalless draw in Tuesday’s opening match of their first Champions League campaign in two decades.
Eddie Howe’s Newcastle will be the happier of the two sides to earn a point from the Group F clash at the San Siro after being on the back foot for the vast majority of the match.
Milan should have won after wasting a string of chances, particularly in the first half, and dominating the play on Sandro Tonali’s return to his old stomping ground after being sold to Newcastle in July.
Stefano Pioli’s Milan sit top of a tough group before Paris Saint-Germain host Borussia Dortmund at the Parc des Princes later on Tuesday, level with their Premier League opposition.
Newcastle did little in their first match in Europe’s top club competition since 2003, the Saudi Arabia-backed team barely creating a chance and lucky to escape with a draw on the balance of play.
Tonali’s father was at the San Siro and saw much more football played by the hosts than by his son, back in the Newcastle starting line-up after missing international duty and the weekend’s 1-0 win over Brentford with injury.
Before kick-off and during the match the Italy midfielder was loudly cheered by supporters who don’t resent his mega-money move to England.
But home fans, who watched their team thumped 5-1 by local rivals Inter Milan on Saturday, were left frustrated by their side’s poor finishing and Newcastle’s dogged defending which left the match goalless.
Newcastle started the brighter in the opening minutes but it was Milan who should have been ahead after breaking through the away side’s high press and creating a flurry of chances within the space of a few minutes.
First Tommaso Pobega had a well-struck drive pushed away by Nick Pope in the 13th minute and moments later the Newcastle goalkeeper got his body in the way of Samu Chuckwueze’s header.
Barely a minute had passed from those two chances when Olivier Giroud then nearly poked home after bustling to get in front of Pope, and unmarked Theo Hernandez had his head in his hands when he failed to score his free header from Rade Krunic’s corner.
With less than 20 minutes gone Milan fans were wondering how their team weren’t leading by at least one goal, and just after the half-hour mark Giroud wasted another golden opportunity when he misdirected his flicked finish from Hernandez’s low cross past the near post.
Cries of frustration came pouring down the San Siro stands and supporters could barely believe their eyes when star winger Rafael Leao surged into the box and beat two defenders only to attempt a backheel instead of shooting and fall over his own feet.
Chances were in much shorter supply after the break, even after the introduction of Christian Pulisic and Tijjani Reijnders who were dropped from Pioli’s starting XI.
But Leao wasted another gilt-edged opportunity in the 74th minute when he flung his head at substitute Alessandro Florenzi’s brilliant cross and sent the ball flying inches over the bar.
And after Newcastle’s defence put their bodies on the line to block a series of shots it was almost the away side who snatched the points at the death with their only shot on target of the match.
Home fans had their hearts in their mouths when Marco Sportiello, introduced in the 81st minute for the injured Mike Maignan, tipped away Sean Longstaff’s effort from the edge of the penalty area.
Sportiello then had to stretch to push away a dangerous corner just before referee Jose María Sanchez brought an eventful stalemate to a close.