Fleet fell to their fourth home defeat of the season and their third 1-0 reverse as Gateshead’s first-half goal gave them a platform on which to build and they successfully shut out the home side after that. A more energetic second-half display with much better control of the ball failed to yield anything for the Fleet who didn’t really test goalkeeper Aynsley Pears as a gutsy Gateshead defensive performance won them the three points.
Daryl McMahon made four changes to his side, bringing in Sam Magri, Danny Kedwell, Andy Drury and Lawrie Wilson, with the injured Dave Winfield and Antigua-bound Myles Weston making way along with Jack Powell and Michael Cheek.
Gateshead had new signing Luke Molyneux in their starting XI and another recruit, Mark McManus, on the bench. And Molyneux was one of their more fluid threats in a quiet opening. Sean Shields had a couple of forays down the left but there was little to grab the attention of the watching TV public.
Shields did fire over one effort that Darren McQueen controlled to get a shot away but he was surrounded by green shirts. Gateshead were confident in their buildup and Sam Magri had to tackle at the feet of Steve Rigg when he had space to shoot and his delay was enough for Magri to save Ashmore from being called into action. But on 12 minutes that all changed when Scott Boden split the Fleet defence with a pass to Tom White. He raced into the box and his shot was initially saved by Ashmore but hit Chris Bush who was running in to cover and crossed the line.
Fleet have conceded the first goal in every match at the Kuflink Stadium this season and another poor one to give away only seemed to frustrate the home players who struggled to come to terms with Gateshead’s organised approach. Big, strong and defending as a unit, they got 10 men behind the ball every time Fleet attempted to get forward and closed down any space in which to operate. It made things difficult for Andy Drury to thread a pass into his front runners while Dean Rance had to get through plenty of work just to keep the ball moving to a red shirt.
Boden was lively again on 19 minutes when he found an angle down the right to unleash a low shot across goal that skipped through the six-yard box and, to Fleet’s relief, out to the waiting Wilson to clear.
It took Fleet until the half-hour mark to get within range of Pears’ goal and it was McQueen with the chance. A Shields corner was headed back into the box by Magri and McQueen had the space and presence of mind to set himself for an overhead kick that just cleared the bar.
It was Fleet’s liveliest spell of a best-forgotten first half and McQueen again found himself with his back to goal to fend off a defender and feed Corey Whitely whose shot also fell into the Swanscombe End. After Rigg went close at the other end three minutes before half-time, Fleet broke upfield with Shields and he delivered a decent cross but there was nobody poised to get a foot on it and the chance ran clear.
Fleet needed a big second-half performance and they got off to a fine start. Whitely, who was unfortunate enough to run down blind alleys and into two or three Gateshead defenders in the first half, sprinted through two challenges to deliver for McQueen on the right. The striker got his shot away but Pears turned it round the post for a corner.
With Gateshead having by the far the best ball retention in the first-half, Fleet finally got a grip on midfield and dominated proceedings in the middle of the park in the second. And while Gateshead were stretched, they formed a sturdy back line that totally protected their goalkeeper, causing the home side no end of headaches in trying to find a way through.
Whitely dipped a free-kick over the bar on 54 minutes and shortly after that a cross by Shields to the far post was well read by Wilson who fizzed in a first-time effort low across goal that just ran out by the far post. Gateshead mustered sporadic attacks on the break but they were able to pick the lock with a neat pass when they did and from one such one-two exchange, Boden fired just wide.
But it was still largely all one-way traffic. Luke Coulson and Bagasan Graham came on in a double substitution and with Rance and Drury operating much more fluidly, that midfield gave Fleet the edge. Graham’s speed won three corners and he delivered a couple of crosses but still Pears was enjoying a quiet day in goal. Coulson’s decent late cross drifted past the strikers while Whitely had a shot off target and Magri headed a corner down into a mass of bodies but nothing came off for the Fleet who have followed three straight wins with three winless matches. They must be hoping that run ends at high-fliers Wrexham next week.
EUFC: Ashmore, Magri, Bush (Graham 66), King, Wilson, Rance, Drury, Shields (Cheek 80), Whitely, Kedwell, McQueen (Coulson 66). Subs: Miles, Powell
GFC: Pears, Tinkler, Mellish, Kerr (Devitt 90), Molyneux (Thomson 70), White, Forbes, O’Donnell, Olley, Rigg, Boden. Subs: Foden, Hunter, McManus
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