AC Milan 0-0 Newcastle United: Eddie Howe's side draw on Champions League return

Rafael Leao fights for the ball with Newcastle United's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes
AC Milan had several good chances to take the lead throughout the Group F opener

Eddie Howe is confident Newcastle will grow in the Champions League after they marked their return to the competition following a 20-year absence with a creditable draw at AC Milan.

Howe's side are back in Europe's elite club competition after finishing fourth in the Premier League last season, and this was their first match in a tough Group F that also contains French champions Paris St-Germain and German giants Borussia Dortmund.

They were given a reminder of the difficulty of games in this competition as Milan dominated the first half, with Nick Pope saving well from Olivier Giroud and Theo Hernandez, but they rode their luck while defending superbly to earn what could prove to be a valuable point.

For many of the Newcastle players - and for Howe himself - this was their first taste of Champions League football and the Magpies boss believes it could prove a valuable learning experience.

"You can't underestimate the difficulties of coming here - the emotion of the game, new experiences, we had to take a lot on board today," Howe said.

"I thought the crowd were very good for Milan. It was a hostile atmosphere and the players had to adjust to that and that is why I don't think you can underestimate the performance and point.

"It will look better and better as time goes on. There were new experiences for a lot of us tonight and hopefully we can grow from this."

Rafael Leao spurned a golden chance to score in the first half for the hosts as he fluffed his backheel after a fine solo run, and Newcastle were fortunate to go into the break level.

But the game was more even in the second half. Former Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali saw a shot blocked for the visitors, while Tijjani Reijnders forced a decent save out of Pope with a low drive.

Leao really should have won it in the closing stages when he got between Newcastle defenders to meet a cross, but he headed just over.

Newcastle's first shot on target arrived in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Sean Longstaff saw a fierce effort tipped over, but in the end a point at the San Siro is certainly an encouraging result for the Magpies.

An unspectacular return, but reasons for encouragement

Nick Pope makes a save for Newcastle
Nick Pope made several important saves for Newcastle

Newcastle fans had travelled in their thousands to Italy, keen to be a part of history as their side made their return to the top table.

Initially, the Magpies did not look overawed by the occasion as they passed the ball around well and attacked with numbers, but it did not take long for seven-time European champions Milan to take control.

Newcastle perhaps showed their opponents too much respect in the first half, and it looked like a matter of time before Howe's side would fall behind, but they found their feet and their confidence.

Aside from Longstaff's late effort, the visitors failed to create much of note, but they defended resolutely.

Providing their team show more bravery in attack in future games, particularly at home, the Newcastle fans may see this as a valuable point later in the campaign.

"Nick Pope was outstanding today," said Howe of his goalkeeper.

"He was excellent against Brentford as well and it is no coincidence two big displays from him and two clean sheets, absolutely crucial for us."

Will Milan rue missed chances?

Milan were thrashed 5-1 by city rivals Inter on Saturday, but any hopes Newcastle had that their opponents would have a hangover from that result were quickly dispelled in this match.

The hosts were difficult to break down defensively and attacked with pace and skill, and they really should have taken the lead in a first half that saw them have 15 shots at goal, seven of which were on target.

Leao was guilty of Milan's biggest miss as he went from the sublime to the ridiculous in one incredible move midway through the first half.

He initially showed fantastic footwork to breeze past three Newcastle players but then fell over when attempting to backheel into the net, when a more straightforward shot would have probably done the job.

It was arguably Milan's best opportunity of the game, and last season's semi-finalists seemed to run out of ideas in the second half.

With PSG and Dortmund to come, the home fans would perhaps have seen this fixture as their best chance for a home win, and it remains to be seen just how costly those first-half missed chances prove to be in the long run.