It turned out to be a Northern trip to forget for the Fleet as second-half dominance from Gateshead saw Stephen Wearne put three past Mark Cousins after Dominic Poleon had restored parity from an early goal in the first period, writes Katie Humphris.
There were just the two changes from Tuesday’s win against Aldershot which saw Chris Solly and Greg Cundle come into the starting lineup with Joe Martin and Ben Chapman out.
The hosts would claim the first chance of the match. Play from a free kick led to Wearne shooting on goal from the edge of the area but Jack Wakely stood strong and headed clear.
It only took Gateshead five minutes to take the lead as Kenton Richardson found himself in space and the supporters urged him to shoot on goal, which he did and his deflected effort wrong-footed Cousins and sailed into the back of the net.
The Fleet’s first sight of goal came in the 12th minute, when Josh Wright sent in a delivery from a corner. The ball looked to have fallen into the path of Billy Clifford who was in space in the area, but it was scrambled away from him before he could get the shot off and Gateshead cleared their lines.
Some 12 minutes after Gateshead had snatched the opener, the Fleet grabbed an equaliser. Toby Edser produced a brilliant interception in the midfield allowing Franklin Domi to link up nicely with Cundle on the wing. The Fleet’s number 15 sent a low cross into the area where Poleon fired on goal, but Mair made the save. However, the Fleet striker struck the ball on the rebound to claim his second of the season.
Gateshead nearly earned their lead back instantly through Marcus Dinanga – Cousins with a strong hand to keep that one out but moments later Dinanga found himself through on goal once again, his effort near the byline was magnificently cleared by the Fleet backline. Gateshead continued to seek their second goal, with Wearne opting to shoot from range but Cousins once again stood strong. It would be another strong save from Cousins to deny Richardson, the ball going out for a corner to the hosts which the Fleet cleared confidently.
Gateshead were the team to dominate possession and chances but the Fleet showed off their defensive work to keep the scoreline level, alongside brilliant saves by Cousins. One in particular, on 38 minutes, saw Hannant try his luck through a crowd of bodies but the Fleet keeper, unsighted as it rose towards the top corner, leapt into action to push it away.
The Fleet did earn themselves a chance through Darren McQueen, who went for goal but his shot caused no real fears for Mair. That would be McQueen’s final set of action of the match as he came off worse in a tackle with Luke Hannant and had to be replaced.
Replacement Chapman saw sight of goal instantly, his close range header could only find the gloves of Mair but the whistle was blown just as he took the header due to an offside flag.
The Fleet began the second half strongly, an instant sight of goal for Poleon collecting a ball from a long pass. He slid it towards Domi, who hit the ball from a tight angle but his effort was just wide. A close call for the Fleet then when Dinanga saw his effort denied by the crossbar in the 49th minute, Wearne attempting to bring the ball low but Wakely made the quick clearance.
Gateshead soon found themselves in front once again, Wearne the goalscorer this time. The Fleet keeper and Cundle played a few passes across the back and Wearne capitalised from a missed kick from Cousins, allowing him to steal in and send the ball into the back of the net.
It didn’t get much better for the Fleet as the hosts were awarded a penalty following a challenge from Cousins on Wearne in the area, leaving no hesitation from the referee to point to the spot. It would be Wearne who would step up to take it and he converted comfortably as he sent Cousins the wrong way and made it 3-1 to the hosts.
It would be Gateshead who continued to hold the upper hand, creating a series of chances but the Fleet were able to find a chance of their own. A link-up between Wright and Chapman at the edge of the area saw the Fleet sneak a sight on goal but that too was blocked.
Despite hopes that the Fleet could find a way back, Gateshead sealed the game in the closing stages of normal time. On a swift counterattack, Wearne found himself one on one with Cousins leaving little doubt he would secure his hat-trick and guarantee the hosts the three points.
The Fleet had an opportunity to claw a goal back when Domi was brought down in the area for a second penalty but Poleon smacked that off the underside of the crossbar. Gateshead went in search of a fifth but the whistle called time on the Fleet’s longest trip of the season.
EUFC: Cousins, O’Neill (Coulthirst 75), Solly, Wakely, Wright, Clifford (Cissé 64), Cundle, McQueen (Chapman 45), Domi, Edser, Poleon. Subs: Amoo, Hollis
Man of the match vote…