It has been the story of Fleet’s season but once again there was little to choose between them and their higher-placed opposition – except the fine line between victory and defeat. Gateshead triumphed courtesy of a goal shortly before half-time but other than that rarely ruffled the Fleet’s feathers in a game of few chances.
Liam Daish kept faith with his 3-5-2 formation, Johnny Herd returning to the side in place of Giannoulis Fakinos and Joe Howe pushing into midfield. And with scouts aplenty in the stands, rumour had it to watch Michael West, the subject of their scrutiny came within a whisker of opening the scoring early on, as he brought the ball under control and flashed a shot wide of Paul Farman’s goal. Two minutes later Craig Stone thumped a ball over after good approach play from the Fleet and then West had another effort in a similar position to his first, but the shot lacked power and accuracy.
Gateshead had the best opportunity, however, when Yemi Odubade got the better of Paul Lorraine and Chris Carruthers met the cross with a crisp shot that Preston Edwards was at full stretch to palm away. The visitors were solid across the pitch without any individual standing out and they were on top for the mid period of the first half with a couple of corners and crosses that had the Fleet defence stretched. Odubade again tested Edwards on 22 minutes with a dipping shot in a game that continued at a quite frenetic pace.
Fleet’s front players struggled to get the better of the impressive James Curtis at the back and, though the defender disappeared for more than five minutes to get a head wound attended to, the home side failed to take advantage bar Willock’s charge through on goal that came to nought after good defending. On the half-hour mark, Johnny Herd had a long-range effort swing wide as he smashed a shot through a crowd of players and then Tom Phipp had two powerful shots blocked, the second troubling Farman as it rocketed in from 18 yards. And on 37 minutes, West’s delightful chip picked out Willock in the middle but the striker couldn’t get a clean head on the ball and glanced it wide.
That period of pressure for the Fleet came to an end five minutes before half-time when Gateshead went ahead, somewhat out of the blue. Ian Simpemba did well to head Odubade’s shot clear of goal but from the corner, the ball fell to Josh Gillies who crossed for on-loan Newcastle defender Jeff Henderson to crash a header past Edwards.
Fleet shuffled their pack in the second half, Herd making way for Lanre Azeez. Within four minutes Willock was sprinting clear from Phipp’s forward pass and though he got the better of his defender, his shot was blocked by Farman’s legs. The home side were enjoying the bulk of possession though Gateshead were not unduly troubled and looked smart on the break, with Gillies orchestrating things in midfield and Andy Baxter strong on the right flank.
Ram Marwa made way for Scott Ginty on 71 minutes as Daish sought a greater spark up front but, while his side could hardly be criticised, neither did they have the guile to outwit the Gateshead back line. The best opportunities of the closing period fell to Willock and Ginty almost got on the end of a Yado Mambo ball in, while for Gateshead Kris Gate twice went close but Lorraine made a couple of textbook tackles. But both sides were lacking a cutting edge, with Gateshead less inclined to look for one as their slender lead looked more valuable as time passed and it was little surprise that the game ended with that as the difference between the two sides.
TEAM: Edwards, Stone, Herd (Azeez 46), Lorraine, Mambo, Simpemba, Howe, Marwa (Ginty 72), Phipp, West, Willock. Subs not used: Welch, Stavrinou, Fakinos.
Calum Willock won man of the match v Wrexham. Vote for today’s using drop-down panel above.