Fleet recovered from an early-morning fire alarm wake-up call at their hotel and then going a goal down to record their second successive win at the far-flung International Stadium.
With England legend Paul Gascoigne in attendance, the Fleet made one enforced change as Neil Barrett started thanks to Yado Mambo’s hamstring injury which meant a reshuffle in defence.
Gateshead started brightly with plenty of options down either flank and home debutant Alan O’Brien, an Irish international formerly of Newcastle and Hibernian, caught the eye. Yet Fleet could have taken an early lead on 7 minutes when Ricky Shakes delivered a pass into the middle that defender James Curtis completely missed as he came to clear and Calum Willock needed only a touch to steer home but was as much taken by surprise as the Gateshead defender.
And the home side grew in strength, winning three corners in the opening 12 minutes and they took the lead on the quarter-hour mark. James Curtis advanced down the right and cut a ball into Craig Baxter whose movement took him past the Fleet defence. He cut the ball back from the byline and Micky Cummins was well placed to slot the ball past Lance Cronin.
The lively Baxter almost saw a fortuitous cross-cum-shot creep in on 21 minutes when he lofted a high ball into the middle which Cronin judged as going high and was proved right – but only just as the ball grazed the top of the crossbar. The home side looked like one gunning for the play-offs and Fleet had to be careful to keep the threat from wide areas to a minimum. Sam Rents went close with a good shot that was blocked by Paul Lorraine on 27 minutes while the Fleet skipper also got in the way of chances crafted by Baxter and Cummins.
Fleet didn’t show much ambition until the half-hour mark, Shakes rather squandering a shot after a good run while Neil Barrett’s effort flew past the upright. But Gateshead had the last shout of the half when Jon Shaw’s run from the halfway line saw his low cross get past Cronin but the Fleet goalkeeper’s challenge did enough to put off the onrushing O’Brien.
The second half was a much better affair from a Fleet point of view as they enjoyed plenty of possession, restricting Gateshead and gradually pushing them back. Shakes’ pace on the ball was giving Fleet a good outlet and he forced Phil Turnbull into a hasty clearance on 53 minutes. And the visitors made Gateshead pay on 55 minutes when Baxter brought Liam Enver-Marum down. The Fleet No.15 took the kick himself, his drive coming back off the underside of the crossbar where Barrett was waiting to head over the line from close range.
Frustrated by their lack of chances, the home side looked casual and ragged in their passing as the Fleet midfield led by Ram Marwa increased in confidence. In contrast to the first half, it took Gateshead until the 71st minute to fashion anything of note when substitute Liam Hatch, playing out wide, combined well with Jamie Chandler, a move that bamboozled the Fleet defence but Ross Smith got in the way and the result was only a corner.
And Fleet struck gold on 78 minutes when substitute Nathaniel Pinney, on for Willock, took advantage of some standstill defending from Gateshead to send a ball across goal and there was Enver-Marum coming in at the near post to hit the back of the net. Things got even better 10 minutes later as Fleet forced a couple of corners. From the second, Enver-Marum’s ball in saw a Curtis foul on Ugwu spotted by the referee and the Reading loanee dusted himself down to fire home his third in four games from the spot.
Given Gateshead’s lacklustre second-half efforts, that should have been that but within a minute of the restart, Josh Gillies got away down the right and delivered a fine cross that hotshot striker Shaw glanced past Cronin. There was some anxiety for the travelling faithful in four minutes of additional time but though the Heed found some urgency, they couldn’t find an equaliser and the Fleet took home a very good three points, finally laying to rest the charge of not having beaten a side in the Top 10 this season.
The result moves Fleet up one place to 14th place, 15 points off the drop zone and for the first time this season, a similar amount away from the play-offs!
TEAM: Cronin, Stone, Phipp (Herd 56), Smith, Lorraine, Marwa, Barrett, Shakes, Enver-Marum (Stavrinou 90), Ugwu, Willock (Pinney 56). Subs not used: McNeil, Azeez.
Vote for your man of the match using drop-down menu above. Gozie Ugwu won the vote for the Southport match.