EDDIE HOWE praised Nick Pope’s goalkeeping heroics as Newcastle United’s defiant rear-guard action secured a goalless draw with AC Milan in the San Siro.

The Magpies’ return to the Champions League after a 20-year absence looked like falling flat as Milan dominated for long periods and carved out a succession of chances.

But with Pope making six crucial saves in the opening 20 minutes and Newcastle’s back four refusing to cave in despite Milan’s seemingly incessant attacking, the Magpies dug in to claim what could prove a precious point.


Pope has had a difficult start to the season, having been dropped by Gareth Southgate for England’s most recent round of matches, but Howe has never doubted his ability and feels it is no coincidence that the goalkeeper’s best two performances of the season – against Brentford at the weekend and now also in Milan – resulted in Newcastle claiming successive clean sheets.

“I thought Nick was outstanding today,” said Howe, who was presiding over his first Champions League game as a head coach. “He was excellent against Brentford although he didn’t have a lot to do and his all-round game was at his highest level.

“It’s no coincidence, two big displays and two clean sheets from him which is absolutely crucial to us. He was a huge part of our success last year and no doubt he’ll be the same this year.”

Newcastle rode their luck at times as Milan’s forwards spurned a series of good chances, although Howe did not feel there was anything fortuitous about the final result.

Instead, while he accepted his side were not at their attacking best as they failed to record a single shot on goal until stoppage time, when Sean Longstaff almost staged what would have been the ultimate smash-and-grab raid with a shot that was turned over, he also felt the quality of their defensive work more than merited a point.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I didn’t think the draw was luck,” said Howe. “We were slightly disappointed with how we played with the ball tonight but there’s a lot of different reasons for that.

“Our first thought wasn’t to defend deep or to protect our goal, far from it, that’s not how we set up our team. We tried to be aggressive, we tried to get to the Milan centre-backs and goalkeeper in their build-up phase.

“We had mixed success with that, I thought. We were a little bit loose in our defending in that first half – hence the number of chances Milan created but we were very good in and around our (defensive) box, hence why we got the point.”

Howe also praised the way in which his players handled what could have been an intimidating atmosphere inside the San Siro.

“I thought the crowd were very good for Milan tonight,” he said. “It was a hostile atmosphere and the players had to adjust to that which is why you can’t underestimate the performance and the point we get. It will look better and better as time goes on because it was a new experience for a lot of people tonight, me included.”