United supporters Bob Stevens and Mick Nile joined 463 Gateshead fans at a drizzly International Stadium, as Nas Bashir’s threadbare squad headed north for the second time in four days.
Already handicapped by the nonsensical injury time sending off of Dan Spence at York on Saturday, a knock in training on Monday also deprived the manager of Mark Bentley, leaving him with a lopsided squad to select from, and also being able to name just four substitutes. Pelé dropped into the back four to partner Phil Walsh, and Tom Cadmore was shifted across for an unhappy stint at left-back, with Dwane Lee recalled to central midfield, while Tom Collins covered the left midfield berth.
It would be a fruitful evening for the home side, who dominated the game from start to finish without ever having to find high gear. Jon Shaw, who bagged a hat-trick at Kingfield in September, almost turned provider five minutes into the game with a cross from the right which the lively Kris Gate headed just wide of Steve Arnold’s post. Shaw himself was unlucky not to open the scoring on 10 minutes, as he was left unchallenged on the edge of the area, but his well struck shot hit the post and rebounded to safety.
United’s outstanding player of the evening was Steve Arnold, and on eighteen minutes a great flying save to his right kept out another Gate effort. As the half hour approached, United got what would be their only clear sniff of a goal. A foul on Collins earned a free kick in Tom Cadmore territory, sadly though for United, the home defence held firm and cleared comfortably.
At the other end, United struggled to deal with a succession of corners as Gateshead looked for the opening goal. Arnold had to be alert to deal with a powerful downward header from Shaw, while Paul Dummett, who had signed for The Heed on loan from Newcastle United earlier in the day, almost celebrated a scoring debut, with a cross-cum-shot which Arnold tipped away.
This was immediately followed by an effort from James Marwood, tormenting Cadmore for most of the evening, and forcing another save from the busy United ‘keeper. The breakthrough finally came on 34 minutes, when another corner for the home side was floated in from the left, and Gate’s flicked header had enough on it to take it through a crowded six yard area and past Arnold to give Gateshead a deserved lead.
It could have got worse for United five minutes before the break. Alan O’Brien found Michael Cummins who in turn set up Craig Baxter who shot just wide. Arnold then saved again from Gate as the half drew to its close, and it was clear that United would need to re-organise at half time, if we were to get back into the game.
Freddie Warren replaced Michael Thalassitis, who’d had an ineffectual first half, but his own contribution was to last little more than ten minutes. Fouled by Marwood (who was booked for the challenge), Warren kicked out at the right winger as he tried to get to his feet. Referee Ross Joyce was on the spot to instantly administer a red card.
Luke Williams had been shackled by a solid Gateshead defence and midfield throughout the evening. On the hour mark, he was able to cut free for the only time in the match to find Yassin Moutaouakil in space on the right, but the Frenchman’s effort from distance ballooned well over the bar in what was the only decent move United threatened to carve out in the second half.
The United defence was not as tight at the other end, and Cummins drilled in a low shot which Arnold saved. It was effectively game over within a further three minutes, as O’Brien set up predator Shaw to grab his twenty-fifth goal of the season and put Gateshead 2-0 in front.
Bashir tried to freshen things up with Daniel Wishart replacing Julian Owusu, and Toby Ajala coming on for Dwane Lee, but United couldn’t find a way back into the game. Gateshead ‘keeper Paul Farman was no doubt watching admiringly as Arnold continued to produce saves which kept the scoreline respectable.
O’Brien fired in an effort with eighteen minutes to go, and then Arnold dealt comfortably with Cummins’ cross. Moutaouakil, Walsh and Pelé were all on hand in the closing minutes of the match to deny the home side’s M-o-M James Marwood the goal he sought to cap a fine display as Gateshead coasted to a very comfortable 2-0 victory which will have given Nas Bashir and his management team plenty to think about ahead of this Saturday’s crucial match with Kettering Town at Kingfield.
Report by Lee Hermitage.
United Man of the Match: Steve Arnold.
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