By Gerry PrewettAfter finally overtaking long-standing leaders of the Vanarama Conference, Barnet, on Tuesday night Bristol Rovers take the long trip to the North East to face Gateshead.
The Heed have done very well in Cup competitions this season, reaching the 4th Round of the FA Cup and consequently have a backlog of games to play, having played just 31 as opposed to the 36 Rovers have played.
They are currently in a good run of form, although they have had trouble with home games, with 3 wins and one defeat in their last four games. On Tuesday they recorded their first home win since October with a 2-0 victory over Kidderminster Harriers.
The Heed broke the deadlock through Alex Rodman who glanced home Matty Pattison's pin-point cross on 42 minutes. Newcastle United loanee Adam Campbell then went close for the home side.
Harriers squandered two golden chances to equalise – firstly as veteran forward Lee Hughes scooped wastefully over the crossbar with time to pick his spot, before the unmarked Aman Virma somehow nodded wide a Kevin Nicholson corner.
They were punished in the last minute of normal time, as Substitute Carl Finnigan swept home from Pattison’s cutback.
The result took the Tynesiders up to 10th place, nine points off the play-off places but with a full five games in hand over 5th placed Forest Green Rovers.
After the game on Tuesday Danny Mills, Gateshead Manager, said: “We know we’ve got a lot of catching up to do – that’s a great way to start. We’ve been tested recently, but you have to keep going. You have to keep believing.”
“And I think we’ve proved tonight that we’re still up for the fight – that’s the most important thing. Kidderminster have had two or three good chances to equalise – and maybe in the past teams would have stuck those away, but they haven’t tonight, and perhaps that’s just the change in luck that we need. I think that a lot of people – I think – have lost the belief in us that we can actually go and do something.”
“I haven’t lost that. I still believe we can. We’ll work as hard as we can – and with that hard work, and little bit of Lady Luck, why not?”
“I thought we were excellent. I thought we showed another side of us tonight, where we needed to win a lot of second balls to get into good positions. It wasn’t the passing game people are used to seeing us play. They made it difficult for us.
“And it was about our shape tonight – and our desire to keep going from start to finish. We were off again at Dartford, which has set us back another game. Maybe, I was to blame a little against Nuneaton, where I changed it maybe too early.
“I believe in the way we play, and what we’re about, and I think that was proved right tonight. We’ve got a good set of players, and we needed that win tonight – and the fans did as well.”
Gateshead was originally founded in 1889 but the club had a very chequered existence. They played in the Football League from 1930 until 1960, but were liquidated in 1973. The present club was formed in 1977.
Current Manager Gary Mills was appointed on 3 September 2013 and took Gateshead to third place in the Conference at the end of his first season as manager, qualifying the team for the end-of-season promotion play-offs. An aggregate win over Grimsby Town took Gateshead to their first appearance at Wembley Stadium. However they lost 2–1 to Cambridge United.
In the reverse fixture on a rare Friday night game at the Mem Rovers twice fought back from a goal down to win a five-goal thriller. Matty Pattison bundled The Heed ahead on 18 minutes. It was only just before the hour mark that Ollie Clarke equalised with a stunning low 30-yard strike.
Alex Rodman slotted in as Gateshead regained the lead just three minutes later, only for Lee Mansell to level again with a free-kick with 20 minutes left on the clock. Very soon after Stuart Sinclair lashed in the winner after visiting keeper Adam Bartlett ran out of the area and lost the ball.
Gateshead’s Rodman who the opening goal in a crucial 2-0 victory against play-off rivals Harriers has only just returned to the team form a six week layoff caused by a shoulder injury, it was the 28-year-old’s first start since January 7.
Rodman returned as a substitute in the Tynesiders’ disappointing 2-1 defeat to Nuneaton Town a fortnight ago, but after playing a starring role on Tuesday night, he affirmed that he is fast approaching full fitness as a pivotal stage of the season beckons.
He said: “I’m not quite at 100% yet. I still feel a little leggy, but it was my first start since I’ve been back. I was out for five or six weeks, so it’s always going to take a little bit of time to get back to 100% fitness.”
“I was pleased to get a goal, but more importantly, we needed those three points, and I’m getting fitter and stronger with each game.”
“It was a massive result for us after such a poor showing against Nuneaton. Three points slipped by that we really should have taken, but that has kind of galvanised us. It was completely out of character to play as poorly as that, and to lose at home.
“But while I was out injured, the boys turned in some good performances, and we were on a decent little run.”
Rodman insists that the Heed can take heart from their display at the Mem in December, and is relishing the chance to take on the Gas, “Bristol Rovers are flying. I said two months ago that I thought they’d win the league. I thought we played them off the park in the first-half down at their place, and they showed what a good side they were by coming back to beat us. It’ll be a tough game, but if we can turn in another performance like Tuesday, then anything can happen."