By Dominic Scurr
BRAINTREE Town completed a National League double over Gateshead at Cressing Road on Saturday as late goals in either half saw the hosts emerge as 2-0 winners.
A Korrey Henry penalty and a late second from substitute Alfie Cerulli was enough to see the Iron pick up their eighth win of the campaign – but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from being effectively relegated from the National League for the second time in three seasons.
Gateshead went into the game on the back of another rollercoaster week at the club having been evicted from the International Stadium on Friday afternoon shortly before a deal was agreed in principle for former Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy to take over at the club.
The Heed were without suspended Mike Williamson or injured JJ O’Donnell for the trip as manager Ben Clark re-introduced Cameron Salkeld to the starting line-up.
Prior to the match, Braintree were all but down regardless of the result as they were 17 points from safety with a maximum of 18 to play for.
Conversely, the visiting Tynesiders were just two points off a play-off place and still had it all to play for.
But it was the home side who started the stronger as Aynsley Pears was quickly called into action by a powerful Mo Sogaf strike which was tipped over the crossbar by the Gateshead goalkeeper.
Defender Tom Devitt then came close for the Heed as he hooked Greg Olley’s low corner around the right post from close range.
There were a few half chances for Braintree that were either blocked or comfortably collected by Pears as Gateshead struggled to get a foothold in the match.
Henry was denied by the side netting from a tight angle just five minutes before Gateshead arguably saw themselves with the best chance of the match so far.
Connor Thomson charged down the ball and found himself through on goal before England C goalkeeper Ben Killip charged from his line to block the Heed number 7’s effort.
As half-time approached, Gateshead thought they had the lead as Jon Mellish’s looping header from Olley’s corner bounced down off the Braintree crossbar before the Heed players appealed that the ball may have in fact crossed the line, but nothing was given.
And just before the break, the Heed were punished as Dan Matsuzaka was brought down inside the area by Robbie Tinkler. The referee quickly pointed to the spot and teenage forward Korrey Henry dispatched his penalty with aplomb to give the home side the lead at the break.
As the second half got underway, Gateshead were able to impose themselves on the game more as Braintree looked to preserve their slender lead. Thomson came close as he turned Steve Rigg’s pull-back wide of the right post from eight yards.
The Gateshead winger then found himself through on goal once again as he brought down Rigg’s clipped ball before shooting straight at an onrushing Killip, who closed his angles down well.
At the other end, Pears was making sure the Heed still had a fighting chance of a point going into the closing stages as he palmed Aaron Eyoma’s 25-yard half volley over the bar before getting a finger to Mo Sogaf’s dangerous free-kick which cannoned back off the crossbar.
Clark’s side gradually began to apply more pressure on Braintree as they pushed bodies forward, leaving them susceptible to the counter-attack.
A Braintree clearance saw 18-year-old Iron substitute Cerulli with the entire Gateshead half and just Pears to beat but the Heed keeper once again stood tall to keep the score at 1-0.
But less than two minutes later, the teenager avenged his missed opportunity as picked up the ball inside the Gateshead penalty area before turning and scooping it into the far right side of the goal to double the Iron’s advantage late on.
With the points wrapped up for Braintree, Gateshead still came close to grabbing a consolation deep into stoppage time as Rigg’s effort bounced back off the crossbar before substitute Lewis McGeoch’s acrobatic overhead kick deflected out for a corner.
It would have been a positive end to an otherwise difficult match for the Heed but it wasn’t to be as they remain ninth in the National League table though are now five points outside of the play-offs with six games remaining.
Listen to Ben Clark’s post-match reaction…