By Nathan BeesAt times like this you really can appreciate that football is a beautiful game.
After back-to-back home victories, we now sit proudly at the summit of the Conference table for the first time this season on a highly respectable 70 points. We all know what that means we are mathematically safe from relegation!
To be honest, I think that sums up how every Gashead has felt looking at the table over the last few days. We just don’t do promotions, so seeing us in first place is a real novelty. You don’t know what to say or do when people ask about it, because you haven’t come to terms with it yourself. It is mad.
All I know for sure is I have a smile on my face and I am proud of my team. There is no better feeling than that as a football fan.
Being top is just reward for the players given their excellent run of form since August and they thoroughly deserve the plaudits they are rightly receiving at the moment. The hard work has only just begun, though, as we now have to deal with the pressure of being the leaders after chasing from afar for so long.
Cynics may question what the difference is, but there is an inevitable shift in mindset when you go from play-off hopefuls to league leaders. You become the team to beat and the onus is on us to stay top and win every game, which is a pressure we have not had to deal with before. We are proving right now that we can record victories week in and week out, but it is a different kettle of fish when you go into each game knowing there is no margin for error. Just ask Barnet
After being 11 points clear a few weeks ago, The Bees have crumbled somewhat since the turn of the year and have surrendered their once impressive lead. Losing becomes a habit and it is difficult to break out of the negativity that comes with it when you see the teams around you in good form. The pressure - certainly in recent games - has been too much for them to handle and they have paid the price for that this week.
We do not want to go the same way, so being mentally ready to deal with where we are is essential. Every team will try that bit harder to beat us and we need to be strong enough to get to grips with it and earn the right to 3 points.
It doesn’t get much tougher than a trip to Gateshead, but we definitely should not be fearful heading north this weekend. The Heed were terrific in the first half of our meeting at The Mem in December, yet we still overpowered them after the break to record an impressive 3-2 victory. That is what should be at the forefront of people’s minds as we prepare to play Gary Mills’ side again.
Much like the Grimsby Town trip a fortnight ago, it will be a real test of our credentials because the only complaint about our away form thus far is that we have thrown away too many leads. In games at Chester, Forest Green Rovers and Dartford, for example, we failed to show the defensive solidity that we displayed at Blundell Park after taking the lead, and we went on to draw all three matches. A point on the road is not normally a disaster, but when you have been in front it is a real sucker punch. Imagine how much better the table would look if we had picked up an extra two points in each of those fixtures.
Our defence has been absolutely superb all season so conceding goals is not usually a problem, but it is imperative that when we do take the lead in matches we are able to hold on to it.
I am both excited and nervous about tomorrow given what is at stake. An away day is always something to look forward to, but given its importance there is a definite wariness that counteracts it. Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased to be heading on the mammoth trek north in the position we are in and not as a mid-table side with nothing to play for, but it is definitely going to be tense.
I get the impression a very good number of Gasheads will be making the trip to the Gateshead International Stadium this weekend and that will give the team a massive lift. Plenty of people are flying up for the weekend, I know others who are driving and of course there will be the hardy group who travel by coach. We are a loyal bunch, aren’t we?
Fingers crossed we can generate a good bit of noise in what is essentially an athletics stadium. Every Gashead will be in good spirits and hopefully the lads will feed off that and do enough to send us home even happier.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!