By Dominic Scurr
SUBSTITUTE Steve Rigg’s header saw Gateshead rescue a late point at Boreham Wood to keep their unbeaten start to the National League season intact.
Both goals came from set-pieces as David Stephens headed in Kieran Murtagh’s free-kick on the stroke of half-time to give Boreham Wood the lead. The hosts looked to be heading for a victory until Rigg turned a corner to equalise for the Heed two minutes from time.
The draw sees the Heed move up to second in the National League table, behind leaders Wrexham on goal difference.
Steve Watson named an almost unchanged side from Saturday’s win against Dover with JJ O’Donnell coming in for Jack Hunter as the only change.
And the Heed were on the attack from kick-off as Scott Boden registered the game’s first shot on target from Cameron Salkeld’s low cross 20-seconds in.
Wood keeper Ellery Balcombe dealt with the effort relatively comfortably and that would prove to be the only time either keeper would be called into action inside the opening half-hour.
Stephens did well to block Boden’s edge of the box effort with his chest 20-minutes in while Mark Ricketts’ ambitious volley from outside the box flew comfortably over the Gateshead crossbar.
While the game was pretty even in terms of chances, Boreham Wood seemed to be enjoying more of the ball as the half wore on. And as the 45th minute approached, the home side started to pile on the pressure.
Former Tynesider Jamal Fyfield stung the palms of Aynsley Pears in the Gateshead goal with an edge of the box strike. The effort was initially parried by the Heed stopper before he gathered at the second attempt.
Then in stoppage time at the end of the first half, Fraser Kerr conceded a free-kick down Boreham Wood’s attacking left side. The resulting set-piece was floated in by Keiran Murtagh and nodded home by Stephens, who rose highest through a crowd of players to give the hosts the lead at the break.
While Boreham Wood ended the first half on top, Gateshead came out impressively at the start of the second and proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the match so far as JJ O’Donnell was able to find space and get some dangerous crosses into the box which couldn’t quite be turned in.
O’Donnell also had a long-range shot spilt by Balcombe but the Wood goalkeeper was quick enough to react and deny a pouncing Luke Armstrong.
Just before the hour mark, Cameron Salkeld exchanged possession with Olley before drilling a low shot at goal from the right side of the hosts’ penalty area which was well saved by Balcombe and no Heed player was there to capitalise on the rebound.
The home side then had a great chance to double their lead as Josh Umerah got to the byline and cut the ball back across goal for what would have been a simple tap-in for Justin Shaibu but Kerr was there to intercept and slide the ball out for a corner.
Minutes later Pears made a fine diving save to tip Murtagh’s low 20-yard strike around the left post to keep Gateshead in the game.
As the game went into the closing stages, half of the Meadow Park crowd briefly thought Boreham Wood had doubled their lead as Umerah rifled the ball into the side netting from close range. The ripple of the net deceiving those with an impaired viewpoint.
Stephens then came close to grabbing his second of the game as he headed Murtagh’s corner narrowly wide of the right post.
Shortly after Pears got down well to collect Umerah’s well hit effort from the edge of the Gateshead penalty area as the score remained 1-0.
And as the game drew to a close, Boreham Wood were made to rue their missed chances as Rigg, 20-minutes after coming off the bench, arrived at the back post to head Olley’s corner into the back of the net and send the 22 travelling Gateshead fans into rapture.
The late equaliser saw Gateshead then push for a winner but despite some late pressure, they weren’t able to find one as their 100% winning start to the season came to an end.
Given the circumstances, Watson’s side will be more than happy with a point and their 10 point return from four matches equals Gateshead’s best start to the season since they were promoted back to the National League almost a decade ago.
Boreham Wood (3-5-2): Balcombe; Stephens, Champion, Fyfield; Shakes, Ricketts (c) (Parry 90), Murtagh, Woodards, Balanta; Umerah, Shaibu (Thomas 78)
Subs not used: Ilesanmi, Ash, Smith
Goals: Stephens (45+1), Thomas (90+2)
Bookings: Stephens (29)
Gateshead (3-5-2): Pears; Kerr, Williamson, Mellish; Salkeld (Thomson 73), Tinkler, White (Rigg 68), Olley, O’Donnell; Boden, Armstrong
Subs not used: Foden, Hunter, Devitt
Goals: Rigg (88)
Referee: Mr R Hulme
Attendance: 608 (22 Gateshead)
MOTM: Jon Mellish