GATESHEAD’S dream of a return to the Football League in heartache at Wembley - where a Geordie won Cambridge United promotion.
Gary Mills’s side were beaten 2-1 by Cambridge in the Conference play-off final this afternoon.
And in a cruel twist of fate, former Gateshead, Newcastle United and Hartlepool Utd midfielder Ryan Donaldson scored what turned out to be Cambridge’s winning goal.
The 23-year-old - who spent last season at the International Stadium - also set up Liam Hughes’s first-half strike and was named man of the match.
The Tynesiders - who controversially failed to get re-elected to the Football League in 1960 - were backed by more than 7,000 buoyant fans at the national stadium.
And they saw Donaldson put Cambridge 2-0 ahead early in the second half, but Gateshead substitute Jack Lester gave the team hope with a goal 10 minutes from time.
But Gary Mills’s footballing side couldn’t score the goal that would take the match into extra time.
Gateshead took their time to settle into the game, and Cambridge had two early chances.
Goalkeeper Adam Bartlett made an early save from 23-year-old Donaldson, while Luke Berry should have done better with an early header.
Mills’s side went to dominate the first-half possession, but they struggled to create clearcut chances, though Boldon’s Jamie Chandler tested Adam Smith with a low shot.
Gateshead were also fortunate that John Oster and Marcus Maddison, both booked, stayed on the field.
Cambridge got their breakthrough in the 51st minute. Donaldson took the ball on the right and had time to cross for Hughes, who powerfully headed the ball home from a yard out.
And there was to be no comeback from Gateshead under the new Wembley’s iconic arch.
Donaldson beat Bartlett with a stunning 22-yard free kick after he was brought down by Clark.
Lester struck 10 minutes from time after his fellow substitute Liam Hatch’s header was pushed towards him by Smith.
James forced a save as Gateshead pressed for an equaliser.
But there was to be no fairytale comeback, and Gateshead must now strengthen over the summer ahead of a renewed challenge for promotion back to the Football League.
GATESHEAD: Bartlett; Baxter, Curtis, Clark, Magnay; Chandler (Lester, 69), Turnbull, Oster; Larkin (Hatch, 58), Marwood, Maddison (O’Donnell, 58). Subs not used: Walker, Ramshaw.
CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Smith, Roberts, Taylor, Coulson, Miller, Donaldson, Champion, Elliott (Cunnington, 77), Hughes, Berry (Chadwick, 65), Sam-Yorke (Dunk, 46). Subs not used: Bonner, Chambers.
Goals: Hughes 51, Donaldon 72, Lester 80
Bookings: Maddison 7, Champion 21, Oster 23, Clark 69, Cunnington 88
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)