IT was good while it lasted. Newcastle United have thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they returned to the Champions League after an absence of more than two decades, but their adventure will not continue into the spring. To compound their disappointment after last night’s decisive defeat to AC Milan, they will not even have the consolation of a place in the Europa League.

Samuel Chukwueze’s 84th-minute winner ensured Newcastle would finish at the foot of their Champions League group, with their campaign having nosedived since the high point of that unforgettable night against Paris St Germain.

Ultimately, the Magpies have run out of steam, with last night’s game following the same pattern as their European campaign as a whole. Newcastle began brilliantly, seizing the lead through Joelinton as they briefly had a foot in the last-16, but faded as fatigue began to set in. Christian Pulisic’s second-half equaliser was a hammer blow, and when an unmarked Chukwueze rounded off a slick counter-attacking move by curling into the bottom corner, the game was up.

There is no disgrace in dropping out of Europe, particularly given the obstacles Newcastle have had to overcome in recent weeks, as injuries have taken their toll, but there is an undeniable sense of an opportunity missed. Last month’s controversial refereeing decision in Paris played a major role in the Magpies’ undoing, but ultimately, it was the back-to-back defeats to Borussia Dortmund that really sealed their fate.

With that  fate on the line last night, it was always going to be an evening of high emotion. The atmosphere before kick-off was spine-tingling, with a huge sign stretching across the full width of the Gallowgate conveying a famous quote from Sir Bobby Robson: “It’s not beyond our wildest dreams because we did have wild dreams.” For the dream to have any chance of becoming a reality, though, the Magpies had to win.

That was going to require a markedly different display from the lacklustre performance that saw Newcastle crash to a three-goal defeat at Tottenham at the weekend, and from the early exchanges, it was apparent this was a very different Magpies side from the one that had surrendered so meekly in north London.

The high-pressing style that has served Newcastle so well under Eddie Howe was back, with Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almiron hassling and harrying in the AC Milan half and both Bruno Guimaraes and Joelinton enthusiastically snapping into challenges in the central third.

The home side were able to dictate the pace of the play, but while Milan were forced to field a somewhat makeshift back four with England international Fikayo Tomori their only available centre-half, it proved a night when clear-cut chances were hard to come by.

It was the 20th minute before Newcastle were able to create a genuine opportunity. It looked like it would result in a goal when Joelinton rolled a low cross towards Almiron, who was perfectly positioned on the edge of the six-yard box, but just when it looked as though the Paraguayan was going to prod the ball home, Tomori slid in behind him with a brilliantly-timed tackle. Perhaps if Almiron had gone with his right foot rather than waiting for the ball to reach his left, he would scored.

As it was, the game remained goalless, and having been relatively unambitious in the opening quarter of the game, Milan served notice of their own attacking threat when Rafael Leao broke into the left of the area, only to drag his shot wide of the post.

That was a rare incursion into Newcastle’s defensive third though, and the hosts’ superiority eventually told in the 33rd minute.

It was a brilliant opener, with Gordon timing his pass perfectly to find Lewis Miley, and the teenager, who has been a revelation since stepping into the side last month, rolling an astute ball infield to Joelinton. The Brazilian took one touch to bring the ball under control, before his second sent it arrowing into the top left-hand corner.

Suddenly, Newcastle were in a position of strength, and things got even better shortly after half-time when news filtered through of Borussia Dortmund’s opener against Paris St Germain. It was barely possible, but the excitement levels within St James’ Park ratcheted up even higher. They might have gone through the roof had Callum Wilson found the back of the net from the edge of the area rather than stroke a tame shot straight at Mike Maignan.

PSG’s equaliser in Germany changed the complexion of the evening, but that was nothing compared to the deflation caused by AC Milan’s leveller just before the hour mark.

Leao’s cross from the left found Tomori, but the defender scuffed a misdirected shot from close to the edge of the area. It was the centre-half’s lucky night though, because the ball skewed straight to the feet of Olivier Giroud, who was able to square to an unmarked Christian Pulisic, who gleefully rolled home.

Milan’s equaliser came during their first spell of any real dominance, but Newcastle rapidly regrouped and almost reclaimed the lead in the 69th minute. Guimaraes, who was a driving force at the heart of midfield all night, stroked in a side-footed effort from just outside the box, but a diving Maignan produced an excellent stop as he touched the ball onto the crossbar.

With both sides needing a victory, the final stages of the game were like a basketball match, with play switching frenetically from one end to the other.

Leao rolled a shot against the base of the post after galloping clear of the Newcastle defence, but with the Magpies sending men forward, the Italians delivered the decisive blow. Chukwueze was unmarked on the right of the box as Milan broke, and the substitute swept a clinical finish into the bottom corner.