By Dominic Scurr
BACK to back wins for Gateshead’s U19 side saw them progress to the next rounds of the National League U19 Alliance Cup and Durham FA Trophy.
Last Saturday the young Tynesiders claimed their fourth win of the season as they comprehensively beat Wearside League high-flyers Wolviston 4-0 at Gateshead College.
Goals from new Australian signing Finley Hayhurst – Brandon Slater, Corey McKeown and Jack Warriner meant Gateshead comfortably set-up a second-round home tie with Coxhoe Athletic due to be played on Saturday 3 November.
Ben Clark’s side then continued their strong cup form into the next match as they edged past Mansfield Town U19s in the National League U19 Alliance Cup 7-6 on penalties following a 2-2 draw after normal time.
The visitors took the lead before an extraordinary own goal levelled things up for the Heed. Josh Moody then put the Gateshead College side in front before a well-hit Mansfield free-kick ultimately took the game to penalties.
And after a slow start to the season which saw the Heed youngsters lose eight of their first 10 matches, Clark is pleased to see his side start to turn things around with four wins from their last five matches.
“To be fair I’ve been really pleased with the lads,” said the former Gateshead captain.
“I’d say for the last six or seven weeks they’ve been excellent and put in some really great performances.
“They’ve been setting themselves really high standards and, while we’d like a few more wins in the league, it’s always nice to win cup matches and really pleasing to see.
“The all-around performance levels have been a big positive. We have a philosophy which is the same as the first team where we like to pass the ball and dominate possession and I think we’ve been doing that very well these past few games.
“It was great to win on penalties on Wednesday because it’s a learning curve and a good experience for the lads to win in a different way like that.
“Now the lads have set the standard, it’s up to them to keep it up and keep playing to that standard.”
As with every season, Clark received a new group of players from Gateshead College in the summer and is already seeing plenty of progression from the group.
“I’m really happy with how things are going,” he added.
“We’ll obviously be looking to get stronger as the season progresses. There are seven months of the season left and it’s up to the players to go and impress myself, Micky (Cummins) and the gaffer (Steve Watson) as the management team.
“We’ve got Lewis McGeoch who has trained with the first team on a regular basis as well as our goalkeepers too.
“You do notice a difference when the lads have trained with the first team, it does seem to help them.
“We had one of the first team squad members Fin (Hayhurst) who made a difference last Saturday and gives us that bit more quality that the lads know they have to step up to.
“So the lads are in a great position at the moment they just need to keep working hard and improving in order to make my decision an easy one as far as contracts are concerned.”
Last season, after a difficult start in the Northern Alliance Premier Gateshead’s U19 side improved as the season went on and ended the campaign strongly.
And after a similarly tough start this year, Clark is backing his side to really kick-on.
“To be honest I think they are pushing on slightly earlier than the did last season,” admitted the Under-19s’ coach.
“Last season it wasn’t until sort of Christmas time when we really started kicking on but I’m already seeing signs of that now with this side.
“A lot of the teams we’ve played have said how good a footballing side we are even when we’ve lost.
“We obviously want to be winning games, especially on a Saturday in the league but the lads are doing great.”
This week saw Gateshead College graduate and current Gateshead FC defender Jon Mellish make his England C debut.
And Clark has cited Mellish’s journey from the U19s to the England set-up as a key motivator for his players.
“Jon Mellish getting his England C cap is fantastic and that is there for our lads,” he added.
“Along with Robbie Tinkler, Jon has done fantastic but also Tom White was recognised too and it’s important that our players see that there is a good pathway for them here and that if they work hard then it could be them.”
The International Stadium will be hosting a Gateshead derby this Saturday as Clark’s U19 side take on Gateshead Rutherford (2:30pm kick-off).
Entry is free so any fans who aren’t able to make the mammoth journey down to Havant & Waterlooville with the first team this weekend, be sure to come along and support the young Heed side on the main pitch at the GIS.