Gateshead will dream on after play-off defeat to Cambridge Utd

Gary Mills
Gary Mills

IT wasn’t to be. Then again, it rarely is to be for North East teams at Wembley.

But on the evidence of the past few months, Gateshead WILL be back.

And they will be stronger for the experience - and the heartache.

Some of Gary Mills’s players were in tears at the final whistle yesterday after Cambridge United won the Conference play-off final 2-1 to return to the Football League.

That hurt should - hopefully - drive the club on next season.

But it was still a good day for Gateshead at a stadium which Newcastle United, sadly, are unlikely to play at any time soon.

The club’s 7,000-strong support - whose ranks were bolstered by Newcastle AND Sunderland fans - were loud and proud at the national stadium on a gorgeous spring afternoon in London.

Ironically, it was a Geordie who scored the winning goal.

Ryan Donaldson - who started his career at Newcastle and spent last season at Gateshead - was the best player on the pitch.

And it was his stunning second-half free kick which ultimately sent a strong, powerful and well-organised Cambridge side back into the Football League.

Gateshead - who failed to get re-elected 54 years ago - will hopefully follow them next season.

Gary Mills’s side had to withstand some early pressure from Cambridge, who had won the FA Trophy at Wembley in March.

Adam Bartlett - who, like a number of his team-mates, had started his career across the Tyne at Newcastle - made an early stop to deny Donaldson.

Cambridge’s Luke Berry should have done better with an early header.

At the other end of the pitch, John Oster’s guile created a couple of half-openings, but Richard Money’s outfit looked the more dangerous side in the opening quarter of an hour.

And captain Ben Clark and James Curtis, Gateshead’s long-time central defensive partnership, had to make a number of late interventions.

The game, with so much at stake, was keenly-contested, and Marcus Maddison, already on a yellow card, was fortunate to stay on the pitch after committing a second foul.

Oster, booked for a foul, was also lucky referee Peter Bankes didn’t see him kick out at Kevin Roberts.

Ex-Sunderland midfielder Jamie Chandler, from Boldon, tested goalkeeper Adam Smith with a low shot in the 27th minute

Gateshead saw more of the ball once they settled into the game, but chances were few and far between before the break against a disciplined team which for the most part kept them out of the 18-yard box.

Liam Hughes broke the deadlock in front of Cambridge’s support the 51st minute, powerfully heading a right-wing cross from Donaldson past Bartlett, left unprotected by his defence.

Mills’s response was to send on Liam Hatch and JJ O’Donnell for Colin Larkin and Marcus Maddison.

But for all their possession, Gateshead still couldn’t find a way into the Cambridge box, and Lester replaced Chandler for the last 21 minutes.

However, Donaldson Cambridge further ahead in the 72nd minute with a well-taken free-kick after Clark had brought him down outside the box.

Lester struck 10 minutes from time after Hatch’s header was pushed towards him by Smith.

The goal set up a dramatic finale at Wembley, with James Marwood forcing a fine save from Smith. Hatch also put a header wide deep in an extended period injury time because of an injury to Ian Miller.

It was a fraught, frantic final few minutes.

Many of Gateshead’s players broke down after the final whistle.

It was hard to take, and they were deservedly applauded by the large travelling support from Tyneside.

They’d given their all, and the memory of watching Cambridge’s jubilant players walking up the steps to collect their medals will serve them well next season.

The dream lives on.

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)

Attendance: 19,613