Blue Square North Playoff Final: Gateshead v AFC Telford

Saturday, May 9, 2009 11:45 | Filed in Local Interest, Sport

Well, what can I say?

Over the course of the season, Tamworth proved they were the best team over the season, amassing 85 points, but the play-off places were tightly contested, with only four points separating the four play off places. Gateshead and Alfreton Town were the joint highest scorers in the division with 81 goals, whilst Telford and Southport had the meanest defences (34 and 36 conceded).

Gateshead’s performance was all the more astonishing for the fact that they had been widely expected simply to ‘consolidate’ this season after achieving promotion from the Unibond Premier League via the play offs last season. Instead, we qualified for the play-offs a second successive time, and were it not for a few shaky performances in the final six weeks, could possibly have won the title.

Team Wins Draws Defeats GD Points
Tamworth 24 13 5 29 85
Gateshead 24 8 10 33 80
Alfreton Town 20 17 5 33 77
AFC Telford 22 10 10 31 76
Southport 21 13 8 27 76

Gateshead beat Southport 2-1 over the two legs of their play-off semi final, whilst AFC Telford survived a scare to emerge 5-4 winners over Alfreton Town. The final was therefore to be played at the home ground of the higher placed finalist — at Gateshead International Stadium at 7:45pm on Friday 8th May.

Only there was a slightly bigger crowd than usual and the kick-off had to be delayed. Gateshead’s average home attendance during the league campaign was 477 (five teams averaged over 800, and AFC Telford average a massive 1,973), so when 4,203 people turned up wanting to see the game — including 16 coach loads of Telford fans (full credit to them; it’s a long way to go on a Friday night, and they gave their team full backing) — it was difficult to get everyone into the ground in time for kick-off.

Usually, you can turn up at a Gateshead game five minutes before kick-off and wander straight in. Here I turned up 25 minutes before the original kick-off time, and would still have missed the first two or three minutes had it not been for the delay. There had been a bit of a queue for the play-off semi-final (1,400 attending), but nothing like this. A gate of around 9 times their average league gate, around 3 times larger than their previous highest gate of the season.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle had expected a 3,000 plus crowd, but I think even they would have been surprised at how many turned up.

Unfortunately, it looked for a long time as though Gateshead were going to undo all the good work they had done by generating such a large crowd by not performing and making it a while before people would come back. Telford started the brighter of the two teams, and while there were no real chances in the first twenty minutes or so, Telford were slowly starting to tighten their grip on the game.

On around the half-hour makr, Danny Carey-Bertram got an opportunity to get in a good shot, which somehow Gateshead’s veteran keeper Paul Musselwhite, making his last appearance before retirement, managed to keep out. As Carey-Bertram pounced on the loose ball, with the goal only feet away and seemingly at his mercy, Musselwhite somehow managed to react and push the ball around the post for a corner, completing an astonishing double save.

And that was pretty much it for clear cut chances: Telford continued to keep the pressure on, but some excellent defending led by the stalwart Jamie Curtis (he’s big, he’s tall, he heads the ball) and a tenacious display in midfield by Kris Gate kept Telford for the most part restricted to long range efforts and Musselwhite wasn’t bothered too much.

But Telford were obviously dangerous: on the break in particular, they played some excellent football (in contrast with Southport who had appeared to want to kick us out of the game) and up until half time were the better side.

After half time, little changed: Telford continued to keep us under pressure, which our defence were coping with, and I was beginning to think both “we’re going to crack at some point” and “I wonder if Telford will end up regretting not making more of those chances”, when on 74 minutes we brought on Darryn Stamp for Graeme Armstrong who had toiled had for little reward.

Darryn immediately brought a new attribute to the team: that of being a big tall centre-forward, which meant that more of the balls we played forward (particularly those half-pass/half-clearance ones) would tend to stick, and it was our turn to put Telford under pressure for the first time.

The next few minutes were quite even, with chances at both ends coming, until Telford defender Lee Vaugan made a very costly error on about 80 minutes: already on a yellow card, he raised his hands to block a pass and duly received his marching orders. A penalty appeal from Gateshead was turned down (quite possibly correctly — it had seemed more ball-to-hand to me than the other way around) but the balance of power in the game had definitely shifted.

And then, on 82 minutes, and from a rather innocuous looking free kick around 35 yards out, Wayne Phillips hit a curling ball into the penalty area which came close to an awful lot of people but didn’t seem to deviate in flight much (although I think there was a slight deflection) which ended up curling straight into the far corner of Telford’s net.

One-nil to the Tynesiders.

That was obviously the cue for Telford to launch wave after wave of attacks which were — mostly — comfortably dealt with by Gateshead’s defence (although a couple whistled alarmingly close), and although we had a couple of half chances on the break at the other end, after four minutes of excruciating injury time that was finally that.

Chants of “we are going up” echoed around the stadium despite my pointing out the tense problem to several people (”we were going up, we have now gone up”), and it was time for the official presentations to the match officials, the runners-up, and then of course Gateshead FC, the play-off winners.

Only we weren’t particularly bothered about watching the presentations (it was the match and the result which were important after all), so we retired to the Schooner nearby for a quick after-match pint instead, and all texted various people to celebrate Gateshead’s promotion, and prepare for next season’s games (back in the Blue Square Premier — aka ‘the football conference’ — after a gap of just over 10 years) against the likes of Oxford United, Wrexham, York City, Luton Town and AFC Wimbledon next season…

…but we still had time to spare a thought for the Telford fans, as we’ve all been on the end of long away trips with nothing to show for it (an FA Cup second round tie against Swindon, lost 5-0, with around 13 hours sat on the coach in one day springs to mind), Telford had put up a fine fight and for much of the game were possibly the better team. I’m sure that with their support, and with that team, they’ll be mounting another challenge for promotion next season, so maybe we’ll meet again in the Blue Square Premier the year after next? … assuming of course Gateshead don’t win a third successive promotion…!

Thank you very much, Graham Wood, Ian Bogie, and everyone else off the pitch who deserve as much credit as the lads on it.

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1 Comment to Blue Square North Playoff Final: Gateshead v AFC Telford

  1. TGRWorzel says:

    May 9th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    What can I say, other than well done Gateshead. A particularly impressive achievement to gain two successive promotions. The team obviously wanted the success and worked hard for it.

    Southampton FC please note !

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