It may have just been a goal that doesn’t count in the official records, but for Rolando Aarons – and Newcastle ould be a vital one for their season.
The Magpies took on Lillestrom on Saturday in a mid-season friendly at La Manga Club, in Spain.
It was the culmination of a week’s training in the Spanish heat after the club jetted away for a few days after they were left without a fixture for 18 days.
On the back of a pitiful 5-1 defeat at Chelsea in their last game, a hammering which saw them slip back into the Premier League relegation zone, it was vital that confidence was restored during the camp, both on the training pitch and in Saturday’s match.
It all looked to be going to plan when Georginio Wijnaldum struck a third-minute opener for the Magpies, rounding the keeper after a great pass by Ayoze Perez.
But they stuttered somewhat after that, with Lillestrom equalising just five minutes later through Bassel Jradi, who took advantage of more sloppy defending by Newcastle.
It looked as if the game would end all square, denying United any crumbs of confidence they could take from a victory against a side that hasn’t played for two months.
Aarons, however, stepped off the bench midway through the second half to clinch the win with an excellent header from Jamie Sterry’s cross.
And he admits it was an important goal, despite the nature of the friendly fixture.
“We were playing against opposition we’re not used to, on a very dry surface, but it was a very good workout to end a good few days of training,” the winger said.
“It was one of those games we just had to win. We had to do a job and there were lots of positives to take.
“For me, I got a goal – my first this season, although it doesn’t really count.
“I’m not known for my headers. It was a good ball in from Sterry, I flicked it on and it went in the top corner.
“I love scoring goals so I’m happy I got one.
“But we also defended well, created chances at the other end and gave players minutes. It’s going to help us for when we go to Stoke.”
For Aarons, his second-half role from the bench was a welcome opportunity for him to play in his preferred position higher up the pitch.
The youngster has filled in at left-back in Newcastle’s last three games because of injury problems, with mixed results.
Aarons added: “I’ve been playing in a different position recently, but it was nice to get forward and contribute at the other end.”
With Aarons having shown that left-back isn’t the best position for him, and Paul Dummett still feeling his way back after a hamstring problem, Liam Gibson was handed the left-back role by Steve McClaren on Saturday.
The Under-21s player enjoyed a solid game, while on the other flank, Sterry made an impact at right-back as a half-time replacement for Daryl Janmaat.
A third youngster, Dan Barlasar, also saw game time, but more importantly for McClaren was the minutes that the likes of Steven Taylor, Jamaal Lascelles, Henri Saivet, Emmanuel Riviere and Seydou Doumbia got under their belts.
With a trip to Stoke City awaiting Newcastle for their next game on March 2, McClaren is slowly seeing more options become available to him.
He said: “This was a decent work out in difficult conditions but good to see the likes of Jamie Sterry and Liam Gibson doing well.
“It was good to get minutes for Jamaal and Steven Taylor along with Seydou and Henri. Plus Manu Riviere came back from injury and was terrific. Rolando also benefited.
“It was worthwhile and a good work out.”
McClaren’s whole take on the training camp was positive, and he believes the decision to take the players away – while questioned by some – was the right one.
“It’s been very worthwhile, and very important to come away,” he added. “We got away and got into a different environment.
“We get the lads together and you are living with each other 24/7. There has been a lot of talking and a lot of work and it’s been enjoyable too.
“Their attitudes have always been very, very good.”