By Rory Mitchinson
A FREAK goal one minute into additional time ended Gateshead’s 100% start to the season and saw Forest Green Rovers pick up their first victory.
Dale Bennett’s hopeful cross from the right clipped Sam Johnson’s far post and trickled over the line, the Heed’s defensive record blemished for the first time this campaign.
There had been little to separate the two sides beforehand, the visitors looking well on course to record a third consecutive clean sheet in the Vanarama National League.
Having picked up just one point from a possible six, Forest Green came out of the traps quickly, Frenchman Mohamed Chemlal looking menacing on the right flank.
The winger twice took aim in the opening exchanges, curling wide from a 25-yard free-kick before firing powerfully across the face of goal following a clever turn.
Keanu Marsh-Brown then played in frontman Christian Doidge, who cleared the crossbar with a first-time strike.
Gateshead grew into the game as the first-half wore on, however, with a flurry of chances coming and going.
20 minutes in, Rovers failed to deal with Wes York’s low cross from the right, but Paddy McLaughlin could only skew wide from a central position.
Mitch Brundle then volleyed just wide of the near post following a spell of concerted pressure, before McLaughlin saw a close-range drive parried by former Tynesider Sam Russell, York again the architect wide on the right.
Forest Green again looked to take the initiative as the second-half began, but found themselves restricted to shots from distance.
Forward Marsh-Brown twice let fly, but saw both efforts gathered by Johnson.
Johnson then pushed Matt Tubbs’ strike wide before Chamlal clipped the crossbar from 20 yards – despite seemingly losing his footing.
The Heed looked threatening on the break, however, and came agonisingly close to an opener with 73 minutes on the clock.
Antony Sweeney – making his competitive debut for Gateshead as a second-half replacement for York – connected with Danny Johnson’s floated cross from the byline, only to see the ball bounce off the underside of the crossbar.
Another substitute, Ryan Bowman, then saw a close-range header deflect wide before Neil Aspin’s side were undone at the death.
Full-back Bennett’s delivery was much too strong for both Doidge and Tubbs, but – to the Heed’s horror – the ball caught the woodwork and bounced back across goal, stopper Johnson beaten for the first time in over 270 minutes of football.
A bitter pill to swallow for the Tynesiders, who welcome York City to the International Stadium on Tuesday.
Forest Green Rovers: Russell, Bennett, Racine, Pinnock, Jefford, Traore (Sinclair, 78), Chamlal (Carter, 74), Robert (Murphy, 58), Marsh-Brown, Doidge, Tubbs.
Goalscorer: Bennett (90+1).
Gateshead: S. Johnson, Bolton, Hogan, M. Smith, Fyfield, G. Smith, Mafuta, Brundle (D. Johnson, 57), McLaughlin, York (Sweeney, 67), Styche (Bowman, 57).
Referee: Robert Whitton