Nas Bashir was given a few headaches prior to Saturdays visit of Gateshead when a virus affected several of his squad during the preceding days and added to this was the loss to injury of influential midfielder Luke Williams. On the plus side newly arrived loanee Fraser Franks came straight into the back four which allowed skipper Mark Bentley to return to his favoured midfield berth.
The opening exchanges were few and far between with the only noteworthy effort from either side in the opening 20 minutes being a 25 yard effort from Louie Soares that Gateshead keeper Paul Farman saved low to his left.
The deadlock was broken in the 22nd minute when a looping Yemi Odubade cross from the right was only partially cleared to Kris Gate on the edge of the area, he made room for a shot that was blocked but the loose ball eventually fell to striker Jon Shaw who fired past Steve Arnold from close range to give the Heed the lead.
As United moved forwards looking for an equaliser, Soares fired over from 18 yards after Ryan Crockford's corner had been headed clear by the towering figure of James Curtis. With play switching to the other end minutes later, Eddie Odhiambo cut into the United area from the right before picking out Micky Cummins, his goalbound shot from 15 yards was cleared from just in front of Arnold by Fraser Franks.
The visitors scored a controversial second in the 34th minute. The ball was played left to Odubade who appeared to dump Diak John onto the floor as the ball rolled past both of them and into touch, much to everybody's amazement not only did the assistant referee in front of whom the "foul" occurred not give it he proceeded to award Gateshead the throw-in despite the fact no United player was near the ball to touch it out. With United players still somewhat stunned by the decision the throw was taken and a looping cross was flicked on at the near post to Shaw who arrived at the far to head home easily.
The visitors buoyed by the second went in search of more against a shell shocked United side. Shaw gave chase to a seemingly lost cause and did well to stop the ball on the bye-line and back-heel it to Cummins who saw his shot blocked wide at point blank range by Arnold. Sadly for the United keeper an injury received minutes earlier saw him limp out of the action as goalkeeping coach Delroy Preddie donned the gloves for his first action of the season.
Pierre Joseph-Dubois found space for a shot just before the break but a combination tackle by Curtis and Ben Clark saw the ball cannon away for a corner which was comfortably dealt with by the visitors defence.
United were to suffer another blow before the break when Shaw completed his hat-trick in stoppage time as he stooped to power home a free-kick from the left.
Nas made his second substitution at the break replacing Daniel Wishart, one of the players who had been suffering illness, with Tom Collins. This change almost paid immediate dividends as Collins broke away beating the Heed's high defensive line, having got to the box though he tried to pick out Richard Pacquette where he could maybe have tried to beat the advancing Farman himself.
Just before the hour mark Shaw almost bagged himself a fourth as he threw himself into a diving header at the far post to meet Odubade's lofted centre but his header was wide of the target. The visitors continued to push on and it needed a Tom Cadmore interception to deny Gate from 10 yards after Fraser Franks had initially cut out a low centre.
Shaw and Odubade then combined in the Hayes & Yeading area with the latter's well struck shot from 8 yards being well saved by Preddie. After this further scare, United decided they were not going to just lie down and be trampled on and started to push forwards with purpose getting a reward with just under 20 minutes remaining when Joseph-Dubois sent Soares on a twisting run into the box that saw him tripped by Curtis. Referee Johnson duly awarded a penalty and at the seventh time of asking in United games this season a goal was recorded from the spot as Soares sent Farman the wrong way to reduce the deficit.
With no scares at Preddie's end, United again threatened as the game entered the final ten minutes. Franks long crossfield pass was dragged down by Joseph-Dubois in the area but as the ball stuck under his feet Farman managed to smother it at the second attempt. Controversial moment number two then occurred as with the ball still in play and in his arms, Farman proceeded to charge head first into Collins chest, which surely should have seen another spot kick awarded however this time Mr Johnson played on.
Two minutes later though United set up a tense end to the game when again he sprung the offside trap on the left and held off a challenge from Clark before firing confidently past Farman to reduce the deficit to a single goal which had not looked likely at the break.
Sadly for United Farman was not to be tested as the visitors firmed up their back line for the remainder of the game, the best chance actually falling to the Heed when Curtis powerfully met a corner only for the well positioned Preddie to grasp the ball in his midriff.
Report by Kevin Watts.
Photos by Ray Peploe.
United Man of the Match: Pierre Joseph-Dubois.
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