Gateshead 1-0 AFC Wimbledon
It was tense, it was nervy and on a final day of many twists and turns involving their rivals in distress Gateshead just managed to avoid the Blue Square Premier trapdoor.
Leading from Daryl Clare's precious 4th minute opener the Tynesiders were determined to keep their fans on tenter hooks as they wasted a host of chances - three of them sitters.
Going on the premise that a one goal lead is rarely enough goals in the last ten minutes from relegation rivals Ebbsfleet, Eastbourne and Histon turned the heat up even further.
An 86th minute goal from Grays Athletic striker Alsseny Cissoko eventually proved crucial as Forest Green Rovers were condemned to relegation alongside Ebbsfleet and the already doomed Grays.
Gateshead were safe by the slenderset of margins - goal difference - and plans to go full-time and put a reserve team into the Central League can now go full steam ahead.
It was an unbelievable day in front of the largest crowd of the season at the International stadium, 1,304, an impressive 504 having made the long trip from London.
The atmosphere was electric from start to finish with the Heed Army in good voice for the full nail biting 90 minutes as they shouted their heroes home.
Gateshead, inconsistent for much of the season, rose to the occasion with a great all round performance that should have claimed the most comfortable of wins.
The back four, while only occasionally tested, were rock solid alowing Phil Turnbull to pull the strings in midfield while Graeme Armstrong led the line magnificently.
Ctraig Baxter's marauding runs down the right were another feature of a performance that had everything - apart from the finishing touch.
"We should have won in a canter but it is typical Gateshead that we took it to the very last minute," said relieved manager Ian Bogie.
"We got off to a great start through Clare's early goal but then missed the simplest of chances that would have put the game to bed by half-time.
"We've done it the hard way but it was a great victory and I am delighted for everyone associated with the club that we have stayed up.
"The only part missing from an excellent performance was the finishing and you could sense the apprehension in the crowd when our rivals were turning their games around.
"It was an emotional day. The backing we received from the terraces was top class and it was a massive relief to get over the finishing line."
Gateshead's delivery into the box was much improved and it was Baxter's pinpoint free kick that saw Clare bundle the ball home from close in after just four minutes.
The lively Peter Winn then went past Ryan Jackson on the left side of the box only to shoot past the angle when at the very least he should have worked the keeper.
The loss of captain Kris Gate after just 15 minutes was a setback but Winn should have soon doubled the lead only to put a free header from Baxter's cross over the bar from three yards.
Clare's dink over the Dons defence then sent Armstrong racing clear but his attempted lob over advancing keeper Seb Brown lacked height.
Gateshead were right on their metal and Clare was next to spurn a golden opportunity when a great ball from Turnbull found Baxter.
The full back pulled the ball into the path of Clare who wastefully slid the ball over - three chances pased up in just seven minutes.
Paul Farman comfortably held Danny Kedwell's looping header before substitute Andy Ferrell managed to upstage the previous four misses.
Wayne Phillips' sweeping crossfield ball saw Winn advance into the box to deliver a low cross that took out Brown to leave Ferrell with the simplest of tap-ins from three yards.
An empty net beckoned but whether the occcasion or a less than true surface affected the fomer York City man he somehow managed to get so little purchase on the ball that Brown was able to scramble back and save on the line.
Clare then rightly had an effort ruled out for offside and if Gateshead fans were concerned that their side's profligacy would come back to haunt them they were almost proved right.
Luke Moore floated a ball into the box where the ummarked Kedwell put an eight yard header over the bar in the Dons only worthwhile effort of the first half.
Gateshead continued to dominate after the break - and also to miss clear cut chances.
Armstrong put Ferrell in on the left ten minutes after the restart and the normally clinical Clare looked a certain scorer from four yards.
But, with the goal at his mercy, the twice former Conference Golden Boot winner smashed a right foot shot over the bar.
A Steven Gregory hand ball then saw Brown fumble Ferrell's 25 yard free kick only for Clare to have a second efort ruled out for offside as he hammered home the rebound.
Wimbledon sub Jack Stafford fired two long range efforts narrowly wide to remind Gateshead the game - and safety - was not yet won.
Winn's hooked shot was saved by Brown at the other end while Ricky Wellard shot over and Kedwell's on target shot struck Chris Swailes.
Substitute Brian Wake almost got on the end of Armstrong's flick and Winn shot high and wide from 30 yards.
The final whistle and confirmation of Forest Green's defeat confirmed Gateshead's survival to spark wild scenes on and off the pitch.
"All credit to Gateshead," said Dons manager Terry Brown "they came out of the traps quickly, were first to virtually every second ball and could have scored six.
"They play good football and I felt for manager, Ian Bogie, in the oposite dug out when they missed so many chances as he must have thought it wasn't going to be his day."
Gateshead: Farman, Baxter, Heckingbottom, Gate (Ferrell 15m), Curtis, Swailes, Phillips (Parkinson 87), Turnbull, Armstrong, Clare (Wake 80), Winn. Subs (not used): Provett (gk), Cave
Goal: Clare (4 mins)
Shots on: 6, Shots off: 5, Corners: 3
AFC Wimbledon: Brown, Conroy, Adjei, Kedwell, Gregory, Johnson, Wellard (Stennard 83m) , Moore, Hendry (Harmsworth 50), Poole (Stafford 63), Jackson. Subs (not used): Turner (gk), Godfrey
Booked: Conroy (11)
Shots on: 2, Shots off: 8, Corners: 4
Referee: Tony Harrington (Hartlepool)
Daryl Clare scores the 4th minute goal against AFC Wimbledon that kept Gateshead in the Blue Square Premier. Photo by Steven Hadlow.
James Curtis attacks a high ball into the Dons penalty area. Photo by Martin Avery.
Gateshead players celebrate survival in the top flight of non-league football. Photo by Martin Avery.