By Dominic Scurr
GATESHEAD’S play-off dream is seemingly no more following another narrow 1-0 defeat at Eastleigh on Saturday afternoon.
Reda Johnson’s 16th-minute header from Sam Matthews’ corner was enough to secure three points for The Spitfires who ended their three game losing streak to take a big step to securing a play-off place at the Heed’s expense.
The Tynesiders are now six games without a win and find themselves seven points off Eastleigh in the final play-off place with three games to play.
Gateshead made just one change from Tuesday night’s defeat at home to AFC Fylde, with teenage midfielder Elliot Forbes coming into the side in place of Jack Hunter.
For just the third time this season, Gateshead enjoyed an overnight stay for an away game but it was the hosts Eastleigh who started the game the sharper of the two sides as Michael Green’s early crosses looked to cause problems for the Heed defence.
After 15-minutes, Eastleigh contentiously won their first corner of the afternoon. Matthews floated the ball in and Johnson rose highest at the far post to send a looping header right into the opposite corner of the goal to give The Spitfires the lead.
Gateshead came close to responding quickly as skipper Scott Barrow was denied by the post from a free-kick. The Heed are still yet to score directly from free-kick this season – their last coming courtesy of Ben Fox in a 2-1 win over Maidstone United in January 2018.
After going behind, Ben Clark’s side quickly grew into the game as the midfield of Forbes, Tom White and Greg Olley started to dictate things without ever really causing too many problems for the Eastleigh back-line.
The only real effort on target in the first half separated the sides at the break as Eastleigh led 1-0.
Gateshead knew defeat would all but end their play-off hopes as they pushed for an equaliser straight away in the second period.
The effort and desire that has typified the Heed’s season was there for all to see but things couldn’t quite come to fruition inside the box.
13-minutes into the second half, Gateshead twice came close to drawing level. Firstly from an Olley free-kick which deflected just wide of the left post with Eastleigh keeper Luke Southwood rooted to his spot.
The resulting corner eventually fell to Mike Williamson who hit just wide of the same left post from the edge of the area.
Gateshead continued to press for an equaliser but had to settle for little more than a few half-chances as Eastleigh slowly grew back into the game as the half wore on.
Paul McCallum came close with a header from Green’s left sided cross before the offside flag saved Gateshead from going two behind as Ben Williamson was flagged for offside after being played in by Matthews following a mix-up at the back from the visitors.
After that the game just seemed to peter out for Gateshead as Eastleigh started to slow play down and hold out for a 1-0 win.
Scott Barrow – who had been an attacking force for the Heed all afternoon – came close late on but was denied by a strong hand from Southwood in the Spitfires net.
Shortly after, the referee blew his whistle to confirm another narrow defeat for Gateshead as they remain 10th in the National League table.
While it is still possible for Gateshead to reach the play-offs, they will have to win all three of their remaining matches while also relying on Eastleigh failing to win any of their final three as well as both Ebbsfleet and Sutton dropping points.
Listen to Ben Clark’s reaction here…
Eastleigh XI: Southwood; Hare, Green, Johnson ©, Hobson, McCallum, Boyce, Miley, Williamson (Zebroski 72), Jones, Matthews (Gobern 72)
Unused subs: Yeates, Dennett
Goals: Johnson (16)
Bookings: Johnson (45+2)
Gateshead XI: Pears; Devitt (Salked 80), Williamson, Mellish; Tinkler, Forbes Olley (Maloney 72), White, Barrow ©; Rigg Thomson
Unused subs: Foden, Hunter, O’Donnell
Referee: Joe Hull
Attendance: 1,698 (36 Gateshead)
MOTM: Elliot Forbes