This was a hard-earned success for Gavin Cowan’s team; after taking an early lead they had to show all of the qualities their manager looks for to secure the victory, with hard work allied to desire and discipline to thwart the best efforts of the visitors.
It took barely five minutes for the Bucks to establish the advantage that eventually yielded three points. The influential James Hardy spread play wide to the left-hand side and Lee Vaughan’s tempting cross to the near post was touched home beyond Gateshead’s former Bucks keeper James Montgomery. Aaron Williams claimed the goal, even though defender Alex Nicholson appeared to the get the decisive touch, but Nicholson surely won’t be putting up a fight to be recognised as the scorer.
The game then settled into a pattern of Gateshead in possession, but the North-East side, managed by former Wolves defender Mike Williamson, lacked the predatory instincts to finish off their patiently worked build-up play, and after 17 minutes the next golden opportunity fell to the home side. From a partially cleared free-kick, Courtney Meppen-Walters delicately lifted the ball towards the six-yard box and Jason Oswell, perhaps not aware of how much time he had, powered a header wide of Montgomery’s right post.
Despite their assiduous efforts, the Bucks couldn’t prevent Gateshead from breaking through occasionally, but when they did home goalkeeper Russ Griffiths presented a formidable barrier. In the 20th minute, he turned away Ruari Keating’s sharp rising shot on the turn from close range, then JJ O’Donnell should have levelled just before the half-hour but couldn’t keep his shot down when stealing into space to meet a cross a few yards out.
The Bucks were dealt a blow when Meppen-Walters had to leave the field with a hamstring injury just before half-time, but he had an able deputy in substitute Ross White. In the time added on for that injury, the Bucks thought they’d gone two ahead when Williams glanced in a Vaughan cross from the left; an offside flag denied him, although it wasn’t clear if either Williams or Oswell had strayed beyond the last defender.
The second half saw Gateshead, prompted by the industrious Greg Olley and midfield colleague Danny Greenfield, continued to probe, but the Bucks resolve held firm, with Griffiths in commanding form. Oswell went close again, meeting a near post corner but unable to make a firm connection, whilst at the other end his teammates put themselves in the path of everything Gateshead could muster.
White blocked what looked a goal-bound effort from Olley, whilst Heed fall back George Smith snatched at a half chance when a cross landed at his feet at the far post, clearing the crossbar. Williamson used all three substitutes in his attempts to find the right formula, and replacement Jordan Preston fired a rising shot into the side netting, whilst in reply Vaughan surged into the box but cleared the bar trying to score high across Montgomery instead of picking out a team-mate.
Griffiths had to be on his mettle, using both hands and feet to deny Dan Ward and Smith again as the Bucks kept Gateshead at bay, and the hosts almost made the game safe on 83 minutes; Hardy rolled a beautifully weighted pass into the path of the overlapping Henry Cowans, and from his low cross Montgomery pulled off a point-black stop to deny Williams.
Gateshead’s final effort saw Smith dip the ball over the crossbar from 25 yards out, as the Bucks kept the door shut to bank a hugely gratifying performance and result.
AFC Telford United: Griffiths), Vaughan, Streete, Meppen-Walters (White 45), Sutton (c), Walker, Cowans, Hardy, Williams (Davies 86), Oswell (McHale 65), Byrne.
Unused substitutes: Rawlins (gk), Barnes-Homer.
Scorers: Williams (5).
Cautions: Hardy, Griffiths.
Gateshead: Montgomery, Nicholson, Smith, Hunter, Olley, Griffiths, O’Donnell (Preston 59), Cooper, Deverdics (Ward 71), Greenfield, Keating (Langstaff 71).
Unused substitutes: Dale, Male.
Cautions: Langstaff, Cooper.
Referee: Simeon Lucas.
Assistants: Daniel Stokes; Callum Jones.