Newcastle boss Eddie Howe defended his players after a Europa League place slipped from their grasp as they tried to secure a Champions League berth.
The Magpies were dumped out of Europe all together as a result of their 2-1 home defeat by AC Milan on a night when they had one foot in the last 16 of the premier competition, then looked destined for the lesser only to end up empty-handed.
Had the game finished 1-1, Howe’s men would have taken the group’s Europa League spot with Paris St Germain having secured second place behind group winners Borussia Dortmund after a 1-1 draw in Germany, but substitute Samuel Chukwueze’s late strike ensured it was the Serie A side who claimed it instead.
Asked if they might have played for a draw as time ran down, Howe said: “We wanted to qualify for the Champions League for sure. That was very much our intention before the game and in-game.
“I’m not sure in that moment you can take that will away from the players. If you look at the goals we’ve conceded, they’ve come from mistakes that can happen in any moment whether you are being proactive or reactive.
“Of course I take ownership of that, but I’d much rather have the intention to go and attack and to try to win rather than the other way round.”
Joelinton’s 33rd-minute piledriver had put Newcastle in the driving seat and their position improved further when Dortmund went ahead, but PSG levelled minutes later and crucially, so did the Italians through Christian Pulisic.
Goalkeeper Mike Maignan managed to turn a goal-bound Bruno Guimaraes shot on to his crossbar as the Premier League side sought the victory which would have kept them in the competition, but Chukwueze’s late intervention amid a chaotic conclusion proved decisive.
Howe said: “We’re desperately disappointed. It’s tough to take at the moment. The lads played very well in that first half and I thought we were good value.
“I was hoping the goal would come earlier than it did. Second half, we wanted to try to consolidate that and look for the second goal.
“I was really disappointed with the first goal we conceded because I think that is the key moment. We didn’t deal with a second-phase set-play well enough – it was an uncharacteristic goal, really, for us to concede and then the game became very transitional.
“It was end-to-end from both teams, both teams looking to win, and we conceded on one of those transitions.”
For opposite number Stefano Pioli, who headed into the game at St James’ Park under pressure and with former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic having been drafted in as a senior adviser, there were mixed feelings.
Pioli said: “We definitely wanted to continue our path in the Champions League and that is very difficult. It was a bittersweet evening.
“What we could do this evening we did. Of course we’re disappointed about the Champions League and we regret it. Clearly we’re disappointed, but we also have the conviction that we’re a team that can do well.”