A few hundred yards from the world’s largest car factory, Newcastle United were able to move up the gears.
They motored at times during yesterday’s 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in the home town of Volkswagen.
And there were notable performances all over the pitch.
Rafa Benitez’s side didn’t have it all their own way at the AOK Stadion – they had to defend deep and in numbers at times – but they created the better chances and could have won by a greater margin.
Benitez is slowly building a team capable of competing in the Premier League.
There was a lot of promise shown against the Bundesliga team, but United’s manager still needs more players.
And, above all else, he needs another striker.
Right now he has Aleksandar Mitrovic – who opened the scoring against Wolfsburg – and Dwight Gayle, last season’s top scorer.
That’s not enough to rely on for the Premier League.
Benitez’s teamsheet didn’t give too much away about his intentions for the August 13 season-opener against Tottenham Hotspur.
Mitrovic was handed another start up front ahead of Gayle, while Javier Manquillo started in the absence of the injured DeAndre Yedlin.
Captain Jamaal Lascelles was named among the substitutes after recovering from a knee problem.
In the shadow of Wolfsburg’s first-team home – the impressive 30,000-capacity Volkswagen Arena – is the new AOK Stadion, which holds 5,200 fans.
Normally used for reserve-team, academy and women’s football, the stadium, on the banks of the Mittelland Canal, a short walk from the imposing VW plant, hosted Newcastle’s penultimate pre-season friendly.
On a midweek afternoon, the low-key game pulled in more than 3,000 fans. Not bad at all.
United had blown hot and cold before they arrived in a warm Wolfsburg.
They were good against Heart of Midlothian and Bradford City. And they were not so good against Preston North End and Mainz.
There were dark clouds above the stadium before kick-off time. Wolfsburg made a bright start under the floodlights, but the first chance fell to Mitrovic, who couldn’t test Max Grun.
The home side were more comfortable in possession than Newcastle, who used the pace of Ritchie on the counter-attack.
Behind Rob Elliot’s goal were flags from all over the North East of England – and even one from Poland – though the club’s travelling fans had little to shout about in the first 25 minutes.
And a frustrated Jonjo Shelvey, wearing the captain’s armband, had a warning from referee Robert Schroder after a series of uncompromising challenges.
Things brightened up for United as the half wore on.
Ayoze Perez forced a save after a good run into the box, and Mitrovic had a shot blocked by Grun at his near post. Shelvey put another chance wide of goal.
Mitrovic was booked after tangling with Grun. However, he soon had the ball in the back of the net – despite the best efforts of the goalkeeper, who got a hand to his effort.
Newcastle ended the half with a 2-0 advantage thanks to Ritchie, who stepped up after Atsu was brought down just outside the box.
Grun didn’t move as Ritchie’s left-footed free-kick flew past him and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Mitrovic was replaced by Mohamed Diame for the second half.
Yunus Malli, brought down by Paul Dummett, pulled a goal back for Wolfsburg, from the penalty spot, in the 53rd minute.
Wolfsburg again had the initiative, and United had to defend deep, and in numbers, as the hour-mark approached.
But, just as they had done before the break, they broke upfield and scored.
Shelvey was set free by a clever ball upfield from an increasingly-confident Manquillo, and he broke into the box and crossed for Atsu, who bundled the ball over the line.
Atsu deserved his goal.
The former Chelsea winger had covered a lot of ground and played intelligently.
Then came a rash of substitutions. The game was won.
Benitez’s work on the training ground is paying dividends, but he needs more players for the top-flight. And, sooner rather than later, United need to pay the going rate.
Wolfsburg: Grun, Ntep, Malli, Gerhardt, Blaszczykowski, Uduokhai, Osimhen, Guilavogui, Arnold, Seguin, Jaeckel.
Newcastle United: Elliot (Darlow, 70), Manquillo (Mbemba, 70), Lejeune (Lascelles, 70), Clark, Dummett (Gamez, 70), Ritchie (Murphy, 70), Shelvey, Hayden (Merino, 70), Atsu (Aarons, 70), Perez (de Jong, 70), Mitrovic (Diame, 46). Subs not used: Colback, Gayle.
Goals: Mitrovic 37, Ritchie 43, Malli 53 (pen), Atsu 68
Booking: Mitrovic 36
Referee: Robert Schroder