Newcastle United haven’t won since March 22, Sunderland have spent much of the campaign in the Premier League’s bottom three, and Middlesbrough’s end-of-season play-off push has faded into more mid-table obscurity, but not every club in the North East is having such a torrid time.
Gateshead, who claim to be “just a stop on the Metro”, are 12 games unbeaten and now lie just three matches away from the Football League for the first time since 1960.
The Tynesiders were 19th in the Skrill Conference when Gary Mills took over six games into the season, but having only lost twice since Christmas, a home win over second-placed Cambridge United on Saturday was enough to clinch third spot and a play-off place.
Both the players and the manager deserve all the plaudits that will come their way for a sensational run-in. Gateshead were 12th as recently as January, but wherever their rivals have stumbled, the Heed have capitalised.
Some of the most important results in recent weeks have been the draws. Adam Bartlett produced a crucial late penalty save away at fellow contenders Braintree Town to keep the score 0-0, and three days later Jamie Chandler netted a last-minute equaliser against Southport.
Those draws kept the run going and allowed the players to take that momentum into the final two games, where back-to-back 2-0 wins saw them achieve the unthinkable.
It’s been a remarkable season, and one in which the club almost made it to the FA Cup third round, too. Only an extra-time goal from League Two high-flyers Oxford United denied Gateshead the chance to join the country’s biggest clubs in the next stage.
They won’t want the end to come just yet though, with Grimsby their play-off semi-final opponents. The two-legged tie will undoubtedly be a tight affair, with both sides having performed better away from home in the regular season.
In the two meetings earlier in the campaign, the Mariners won 2-1 at the Gateshead International Stadium, before the sides played out a 2-2 draw at Blundell Park.
Should the Tynesiders successfully negotiate their way past the Lincolnshire club, they will face either Cambridge or FC Halifax Town in a Wembley final.
On current form, only a fool would bet against them.
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