Newcastle clinch Champions League qualification with Leicester draw
Nick Pope ensured Newcastle booked their Champions League place with a game to spare as he denied Leicester a priceless victory in their bid for Premier League survival.
The Magpies’ £10million summer signing kept out Timothy Castagne’s volley in the second minute of stoppage time with his first save of the game to secure a 0-0 draw on a night when the home side battered at the door but were unable to find a way through.
Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron were both denied by the woodwork, but a point was all their team needed to ensure their place among the continent’s big boys for the first time in 20 years.
By contrast, Leicester, who are still two points adrift of safety, will head into their final-day clash with West Ham knowing their fate is not in their own hands.
Eddie Howe’s men were lauded by a crowd of 52,152 on the final whistle, having secured Champions League football for just the third time in the club’s history and way ahead of the schedule drawn up by the club’s Saudi-backed owners when they took control in October 2021.
In some senses it proved to be a frustrating 90 minutes – it might have been more so had key midfielder Bruno Guimaraes seen red rather than yellow for a poor early challenge of Boubakary Soumare – but it was ultimately the bigger picture which mattered.
Howe was forced to make a last-minute change when, after he had taken part in the warm-up, midfielder Joelinton was unable to start and was replaced by Elliot Anderson.
Any fears the reshuffle might unsettle his team proved unfounded as they took the game by the scruff of the neck amid a party atmosphere at St James’ Park, although Guimaraes was perhaps fortunate to escape with only a booking for his studs-up ninth-minute clash with Soumare.
The Magpies dominated possession but in the early stages were unable to find a telling final ball.
Almiron, who had made another high-octane start, fired over after cutting inside from the right and Anderson tested goalkeeper Daniel Iversen for the first time with a curling attempt.
Alexander Isak was seeing plenty of the ball down the left but sliced a long-range effort well wide as the Magpies piled forward repeatedly without ever really being able to summon up the required precision to make the pressure tell.
For their part, City attempted to hit Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho long and early and, although they achieved a measure of success, they met with stubborn resistance from Fabian Schar and Sven Botman.
Wilson twice went close to his 19th goal of the season four minutes before the break when he stabbed a shot against a post and then saw Wilfred Ndidi clear his follow-up header off the line, while Almiron was similarly denied by the woodwork before Isak steered the rebound wide seconds later.
Wilson headed over from a Kieran Trippier corner in stoppage time after Iversen had misjudged the flight and the half ended goalless.
James Maddison entered the fray at the break as a replacement for Iheanacho, but the traffic continued to head very much in the direction of his team’s goal, with Isak and Almiron menacing out wide, although the massed ranks of blue held impressively firm.
Iversen had to turn a 59th-minute Isak snapshot over his crossbar and block Sean Longstaff’s 76th-minute drive with a foot, but it was the Foxes who almost snatched victory at the death when Pope was forced into his first save of the game to keep out Castagne’s stoppage-time volley.