It’s been 357 days since Fleet last failed to score a goal in a league game but a well-organised Gateshead rearguard managed to stop Daryl McMahon’s side doing just that in a match the manager described as his players’ best overall 90 minutes of the season.
It was difficult to argue with that assessment as the home team were largely dominant going forward and restricted the visitors to a few half-chances up front, with some really slick passing, but just couldn’t find the opening they sought to end a run of what is now five draws in succession.
McMahon made four changes, with former Chelmsford pair Chris Bush and Bagasan Graham making their debuts, while Darren McQueen and Andy Drury returned to the starting lineup. That meant no place for Aaron McLean or the injured Jack Connors, while Marvin McCoy and Myles Weston dropped to the bench.
Fleet looked the more eager of the two sides from kick-off, with Graham and Luke Coulson bright as wing backs on either edge of a 3-5-2 formation. They forced a number of corners early on and Graham’s determined drive into the box on nine minutes showed what he’s capable of, Gateshead eventually clearing that for another corner kick.
When Gateshead did get forward, they showed some neat play along the 25-yard distance but couldn’t breach the Fleet’s back line and it was the home side who continued to press. Andy Drury went down under a Russell Penn challenge inside the box but the shouts from off the pitch were certainly greater than the officials’ interest on it and the appeal was ignored. On 20 minutes Darren McQueen managed to get away from Gateshead skipper Neill Byrne, who stood a good half a foot taller than him, to get a shot away that the goalkeeper managed to palm away for yet another corner.
Bush sent in a long throw-in on 37 minutes that Gateshead had a little trouble dealing with and an arm went up in the ensuing scramble but again the referee ignored shouts for a penalty. The visitors proved to be rather wasteful in front of goal, none more so than Jordan Preston who had two shots just before half-time that went some way distant of the target.
Powell was kept busy in the corner-taking role and from another of those, Bush got up well to send a header on to the roof of the net before Drury, on the stroke of half-time, probably had Fleet’s best chance when he slammed a low shot just wide of the post after McQueen had created the opportunity.
Gateshead brought Wes York on for Preston at half-time and they looked more purposeful for the opening moments of the second-half, with Fleet finding it initially difficult to continue from where they left off. More assured though they were, the visitors still proved a little wasteful and York was guilty of another off-target effort when he had time and space to pick an area that might have given Nathan Ashmore more to think about.
Fleet survived a scare on the hour mark when Ashmore couldn’t quite claim a corner and it dropped at his feet with numerous boots flying about trying to get a touch on it in the six-yard box, but the ball was eventually cleared. Minutes later, Mambo had to be accurate with a sliding challenge on Jordan Burrow inside the penalty area as he got clear sight of goal but that was the most shaky period of the match for the Fleet and they picked up again soon after.
Kedwell sent a pass along the ground from wide on the right into McQueen but the Fleet No.14 was stopped from shooting by an excellent Theo Vassell intervention that sent the ball skipping across goal and then Payne curled a shot just past the post from 25 yards. The chances kept coming for the Fleet and goalkeeper James Montgomery had to be out smartly to beat McQueen to a ball into space, it falling kindly for Drury who unfortunately lifted his effort over the bar.
On 69 minutes, the hard-working McQueen again got on the end of a pass and lashed a shot that was blocked in the box by a defender and seven minutes later Montgomery got a hand to a curling Powell free-kick that looked destined for the bottom corner.
Both teams kept plugging away for the goal that would surely win it, but Fleet still looked the more likely to nick it. In the final minutes, Coulson had two chances, the first landing at his feet from a smart Drury through ball but sent wide and the second from a Payne pass that lacked a clean connection. Substitute Sean Shields also had a few moments and he set up Weston for an effort that ended up in the side netting.
So goalless it finished, but it was certainly one of the more entertaining 0-0 draws that Stonebridge Road has seen and on that display, Fleet will be in good heart for their Bank Holiday visit to Crabble.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush, Mambo, Graham (Weston 74), Coulson, Powell, Payne, Drury, Kedwell, McQueen. Subs not used: McCoy, Miles, Shields, Mills
GFC: Montgomery, Fyfield, Mellish (Johnson 77), Williams, Vassell, Byrne, Penn, McLaughlin, Preston (York 46), Burrow (Tinkler 65), Peniket. Subs not used: Hanford, Kerr