By Dan King
He ended the season on the bench and closer than ever to making his Barclays Premier League debut - and James Tavernier believes he owes a great deal to Gateshead.
Teenage defender Tavernier was loaned out to The Heed in January but impressed so much with the Blue Square Premier outfit that Alan Pardew recalled him in March and named him among the substitutes for six of the final eight matches of the campaign.
The Bradford-born 19-year-old clearly benefitted from regular football at the International Stadium - where he helped Gateshead to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy only to be edged out by eventual winners Darlington over two legs - and would recommend a temporary move to any young player.
"Just take the chance with both hands," he said. "If they offer you the opportunity to go out on loan, it's not a case of 'we don't want you' - they want to get you experience. They can't just chuck you in the first-team with no experience so you've really just got to take your chance and go out and do it.
"I played a lot of games at Gateshead, which I needed because the Reserves only played four or five games during a period where I played nearly 20.
"So it was a really good run-out for me to get a lot of games and I got experience in a different way of playing football. It was really good."
The likes of Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ryan Donaldson (Hartlepool), Tamas Kadar (Huddersfield), Kazenga LuaLua (Brighton) and Matty Grieve (Stockport) also spent time on loan with other clubs last term, with Pardew a firm believer in his young players earning their wings in other leagues.
And Tavernier did exactly that as he was catapulted into the senior squad following his early return from Gateshead.
"It was a great buzz," he told nufc.co.uk. "I got the callback early and I wasn't really expecting it, but I was really happy to get back in the training ground, train with the first-team and impress the manager enough to get in the squad and on the bench. It's been really good since I came back.
"I really wanted to come on, but I'm really happy to have been on the bench. If there had been an injury I'd have loved to have come on at the back but I'm happy just to be on the bench and grateful to be in the squad.
"And it was great to go around the pitch after the West Brom game to see the fans supporting us and showing us how much they really care about this club.
"It's a really good fanbase up here and it's a great place to play your football."