Two decades on from their most
recent Champions League adventure and ten years since the last
European away day, Newcastle United made a long-awaited return to
UEFA competition on
That 2013 excursion to Lisbon saw fans devise ingenious travel
routes and 2023 was no different; a new generation of supporters
taking to the skies via a dazzling array of connections after it
proved impossible to source charter flights at anything other than
From Amsterdam to Zadar and all points in between - one enterprising soul
routed via Iceland (the country, not the shop) - black and white
shirts were visible at airports across Europe, their occupants dreaming of the San Siro and
sweating over weather-related delays.
It's all a bit different to working out the best way to Bournemouth,
but a nice problem to have.
For European debutant Eddie Howe
things also weren't quite as they were in the brochure: opting to
stage training on Tyneside the day before the game in preference to
the San Siro, but then arriving in Italy less than 24 hours before
kick-off due to storms.
Following media interviews for him and Sandro Tonali, the United
boss then focused on one of the biggest games of his career - opting
to start with the ex-Rossoneri player in one of three changes to the
first XI that overcame Brentford.
Out went Harvey Barnes, Elliot Anderson and Callum Wilson; Anthony
Gordon switching back from right to left to accommodate Jacob Murphy
and Alexander Isak brought to spearhead the attack.
Led out by birthday boy Kieran Tripper, the massed ranks of Milan
ultras in the middle tier of the Curva Sud broke off from incessant
whistling as the visiting side was read out to cheer their former
favourite. Their chant of "Sandro Tonali, one of us"
also prompted a wave of acknowledgement from him.
The game kicked off amid what was to be an almost constant barrage
of noise from the home end, amplified drums adding to the din of
chanting and clapping, urging on their heroes as they sought to put
Sunday's 1-5 hammering at the hands of Inter Milan on this ground
A string of opportunities were
created and spurned by the hosts; San Siro hero Nick Pope equal to efforts by Tommaso Pobega, Samuel Chukueze and Rade
Krunic as United struggled to get out of their own half after some
early forays. Isak dropped deeper and deeper in search of
An attack by the visitors just after the half hour ended with Sean Longstaff
on the turf and claiming a penalty in vain after a clear but
ineffectual shove in
the back. Had he had stayed on his feet however, he only had
goalkeeper Mike Maignan
Longstaff's decision looked costly just seconds later when Rafael Leao
jinked into the area but attempting a back heel when a
straightforward shot seemed certain to
break the deadlock. Jacob Murphy's clearance from inside the six
yard box as the Milan attack continued was priceless.
Arsenal and Chelsea old boy Olivier Giroud had a few chances to
add to his considerable tally against us, but thankfully failed to
hit the target while fellow Premier League veteran Ruben Loftus-Cheek should have
done better after creating some space but shooting over.
An effort from Murphy that went harmlessly wide at least saw
Newcastle register one goal attempt before half time fore heading
off the field having profited from their priority of not conceding -
an unsurprising stance on an occasion such as this at the home of
such illustrious opposition.
The expected changes saw Wilson and Miggy Almiron appear just after
the hour and although they didn't truly threaten to get through the
Milan lines, the game was at least played slightly further away from
Pope - who was appreciably less occupied by then. Dan Burn also had
a calmer second period after some terrible touches and misplaced
passes in the first half.
Warm applause greeted the withdrawal of Tonali in favour of Elliot
Anderson but still that hoped-for break didn't come for the black
Half-time substitute Alessandro Florenzi crossed for Leao and his
header only just cleared the bar as Milan stepped up the pressure in
the final 15 minutes - and Newcastle continued stonewalling as best
they could, throwing themselves in front of anything and anyone that
Into five minutes of added time and a perfectly-timed tackle on
substitute Yunus Musah capped a captain's display by Trippier,
clearly enthused at being back in this competition at the age of 33.
Then came the moment that almost propelled this game from an
enjoyable return to Europe to an encounter of Feyenoord-like
proportions. Into the final seconds, Almiron sped upfield as
defenders backed off and found Anderson, who played in Longstaff.
He managed his side's first and only on-target strike of the game
from the edge of the
area, but it stayed true in the middle of the goal and was tipped over by sub 'keeper Marco
Any fleeting frustration felt by fans and players as the final
whistle sounded before the corner could be taken was rapidly
replaced by satisfaction at a job well done and an excellent start
to Group F.
A point at the San Siro ultimately failed to prolong our European
adventure in 2003, but as we wrote then, we enjoyed leaving a trail of memories and empty beer glasses across
Europe. Everyone present will have their own memorable moment from
tonight, ours was the mass chorus of "Who's that team they
call United" at the finish.
There has to be more to this than one big jolly though; fans can be excused for getting giddy
(and bladdered) at the surroundings they find themselves in and the
players are entitled to have a tingle when "that music"
plays. This was a laudable start but the learning curve will be as
steep for the coaches as the squad.
As Alan Pardew discovered a decade ago, progress in Europe is
welcome but not at the expense of Premier League form. And while he
was tasked with making teams out of the likes of Nile Ranger and
Shane Ferguson, the finance available to Howe raises the raises the
stakes still further.
It's brilliant to be back though and for every younger attendee
getting the chance to sample at first hand what has been handed down
to them in war/wor stories, there were familiar faces at every
corner: those who kept the faith through the dark times, rewarded
for their stoicism. Forza Toon!