PREVIEW: Gateshead
PREVIEW: Gateshead

When last Fleet travelled to Gateshead – on a cold, rainy Tuesday last April – a 5-2 win propelled the club into the play-off places. Danny Kedwell’s hat-trick that night all but clinched the top-seven spot with one game to go.

It’s not quite as clear-cut as Fleet take the train to the International Stadium this weekend but the prize of entering the play-off zone is within grasp.

Supporters and players will be glad of the ‘distraction’ of a football match after the events of the week, even if it is a curious fixture that matches Fleet with their equally embattled counterparts at Gateshead. The Tynesiders have seen a likely buyer come and go, while staff and players did at one point threaten action against the game going ahead. The club have also been kicked out of their ground, though are able to play matches to the end of the season.

Thankfully for travelling fans, the spectre of a postponed match has diminished and Garry Hill’s side will look to win their fifth match in six.

Dropped points in midweek for Eastleigh and AFC Fylde, together with Harrogate’s poor form, has narrowed the race for the play-offs. There will be more dropped points somewhere as Eastleigh travel north to take on Fylde, while Harrogate are on the road south to play a Havant & Waterlooville side now in the last-chance saloon as far as relegation is concerned.

For all their troubles, Gateshead could yet still gatecrash the play-offs having been there or thereabouts all season. Three consecutive defeats has seen the Heed lose their way a little, but with a game in hand on the Fleet, a win for the home side would take them level on points with us and provide them with a real opportunity of getting back into contention.

Much depends on whether their players can react as well as Fleet’s in adversity. Certainly the Heed’s story so far this campaign – despite being one of the favourites for relegation in the summer – suggests they have what it takes to buck the odds.

They were one of several sides to win 1-0 at the Kuflink Stadium earlier this season, Chris Bush’s 14th minute own goal enough to give them three points in front of the BT Sport cameras.

Since that clash back in September, Gateshead have lost defender Fraser Kerr to Hartlepool, striker Scott Boden to Chesterfield and loanee winger Luke Molyneux has returned to Sunderland.

Steve Rigg and Greg Olley are the chief threats to another Fleet clean sheet, the pair having scored 14 goals between them this season. Rigg, a 26-year-old striker, has played most of his career in the north for the likes of Penrith, Carlisle United and in Scotland with Queen of the South. Attacking midfielder Olley was a summer signing after being released from Hull City.

Former manager Steve Watson also decamped, to York City, meaning new boss Ben Clark – himself a former Heed player – has overseen their league campaign since January. And Clark knows it’s do or die for the home side, saying: “”It is a massive game. Ebbsfleet are a good side and are going through some difficulties themselves. It is getting to the stage now where it is a must win for us.”

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