By Rory Drake
JJ O’Donnell believes Gateshead have “overachieved” this campaign but is still hopeful of “another story in what has been an unbelievable season”, starting with a win at Eastleigh on Saturday.
Results have tailed off in recent weeks leaving Gateshead four points off the play-offs with four games to go but knowing a win at The Silverlake Stadium tomorrow will cut the gap.
Should Eastleigh win, they’ll move seven points clear, leaving the Heed needing to win all three remaining games and be relying on results elsewhere.
“It’s a must win for us,” admitted O’Donnell.
“If we’re going to achieve something and get in the play-offs, we’ve got four to go and we’ve got to win all four really and hope other teams slip up.
“We’ve overachieved all season, so nothing stops us going down to Eastleigh on Saturday and getting back to winning ways and hopefully sneak in a bit closer to the play-offs with three to go.
“I think Saturday is one where we can’t really afford to draw. As a group of players, we understand that we need to win.
“We know we’re going against a side who are achieving really well themselves so it’s not going to be easy but if we can go down there and grind out a result and get three points, we’re three points closer to try and achieve the play-offs.”
Saturday’s game will be only the third time this season that Gateshead haven’t left the International Stadium for an away game on a matchday, with the journey being done on Friday instead.
O’Donnell added: “We’re travelling down the day before. Ultimately that’s what you should be doing to places like Eastleigh.
“You can’t be sitting on a bus for six or seven hours on a Saturday morning, going to play a game of football and then sitting on a bus for seven hours back.
“There’ll be no excuses for the boys, you can sometimes use the travelling as an excuse, but with an overnight stay and proper preparation it gives us the best chance to beat Eastleigh and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Gateshead were the favourites to be relegated in preseason but have instead spent the campaign in and around the play-off spots, proving people wrong week after week, and beating hurdle and hurdle.
O’Donnell has made 21 appearances, starting the season as first choice in the absence of Scott Barrow through injury, but has struggled for game time in the second half of the season.
The left back added: “It’s been tough since the New Year for me really.
“I’ve missed probably two or three months injured, it’s been the story of my career.
“I’m hoping I can play a part. Ben, Busted and Mike – I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I’ve been with Ben ever since I stepped foot in the door, he was the first person to come and say hello the day I joined.
“He’s a great friend to me and along with Busted they’re brilliant, brilliant, people who are trying to do their best for this football club.
“If I’m called upon, I’ll always do my best. They’re people I want to try and achieve for because you care about them off the pitch as much as you do in a football environment.
“We’ve done brilliantly this season, we didn’t expect to have this good a season, when you’ve got 14 senior players you don’t. We’ve overachieved, but who says on Saturday we can’t go and overachieve again.
“If we beat Eastleigh, three to go, can we get nine points? With the ability we’ve got in the squad, I believe we can do it.
“They’re three tough fixtures. Chesterfield have turned it around, obviously Scott Boden’s there now scoring goals for them, they’re a good side and a big football club in this league and they should be up the right end of the table rather than down the wrong end of the table.
“Barrow at home, for me they were the best team we’ve played this season footballing-wise – Harrogate away, another play-off contender.
“All we can do now is go out as a group of players, prepare properly and see what happens.
“If we can achieve what’s not expected of us now, then it would just be another story in what has been an unbelievable season on and off the pitch.”