United made the longest trek of the season on Tuesday evening to face Gateshead in our re-arranged fixture at the International Stadium. Credit must go to the home club’s ground staff for producing a pitch that, while heavy, was clearly playable, the areas in front of each penalty area being a bit boggy, and the six-yard areas still being lightly rolled in the run-up to kick-off.
The handful of visiting supporters who travelled north were met with two changes from the side that had grabbed Saturday’s vital win at Histon, with Delroy Preddie deputising for Lee Harrison between the posts, and Adam Green returning with Elliott Buchanan dropping back to the bench.
Conditions were awkward to say the least for both players and spectators, with driving swirling winds and heavy drizzle adding to an already chilly evening in the North East. A scrappy ninety minutes followed, with neither side able to play much in the way of flowing football or make the most of the half chances created.
United created the best early chance. Good inter-play between Jefferson Louis and Bradley Pritchard in the fourth minute sent the ball spinning across the home side’s danger area, but nobody could convert before James Tavernier cleared. Nathan Fisher, rightly named as Gateshead’s Man of the Match, served warning of his intentions for the evening on six minutes but his shot from the edge of the box went well wide.
Fisher’s ball into the box five minutes later was then comfortably collected by Preddie.
Lee Brown had an effort well off target for United at the other end, and a moment or so later Louis held the ball up well enough for skipper Peter Holmes to curl in a low shot which was comfortably gathered by Deasy. The keeper’s immediate clearance held up in the wind before dropping to Fisher, but Charlie Wassmer was on hand with a solid clearance.
Jamie Hand fed the lively Bradley Pritchard down the right on sixteen minutes, but once again the swirling wind took the ball away from the United midfielder. Kris Gate then set up Craig Nelthorpe but he could only shoot over.
Martin Brittain, thankfully fully recovered from the awful injury which marred last year’s fixture shot wide, and Nelthorpe again had an effort curled wide from just inside the box. United carved out a decent move midway through the half. Tom Cadmore’s long pass found Ben Wright who fed Louis. The big target man laid the ball off to Pritchard, and his long range effort was held by Deasy. Wright couldn’t quite connect with an Adam Bygrave cross as the half hour mark approached.
Despite all this action, neither goalkeeper had been seriously tested, and it was soon becoming apparent that one goal might be enough. Unfortunately for United, that goal fell to the home side on thirty-one minutes. Brittain was left on the Gateshead right with too much time and space to deliver his cross, and Fisher’s superb volley into the corner left Preddie with no real chance.
United’s only real chance to level things up before the break came from one of our trademark corners knocked deep for Hand, but his effort was well off target.
Within twenty seconds of the re-start, Fisher was again left with enough time and space to get another shot in, but again this went wide. United's best chance to bring the scores level came in the 56th minute. Hand’s cross from the left was met on the far side by Holmes, but unfortunately his header clipped the crossbar.
Nine minutes later Elliott Buchanan replaced Wright, and almost immediately he found himself in a one-on-one situation with Deasy. However, after beating the goalkeeper, Tavernier was on hand to thwart the United substitute, who was no doubt perhaps caught a little by surprise to get such a clear cut chance within seconds of joining the action.
Brittain’s cross a couple of minutes later found Nelthorpe and his shot over from close range was another indication of the poor finishing on show from both sides. Similarly at the other end, Buchanan fed Louis, only for his shot to provide a spot more exercise for the ball boys around the athletics track.
Andy Yiadom then came on for Pritchard who had not been quite as big a threat after the break, and Nathan Webb replaced the outstanding Wassmer for the final 12 minutes, the young defender having played on for some minutes after a clash that left him needing tissues to block a nosebleed.
The closing minutes and an incredible five minutes added time in a half without a serious stoppage simply petered out from there, leaving the home side with a 1-0 victory that consolidates their position in mid table, whilst handing United a twentieth league defeat of the season and an ever increasing uphill struggle for survival over the coming fourteen games.
Report by Lee Hermitage.
United Man of the Match: Charlie Wassmer.