By Jonathan Corrall
GATESHEAD almost spoilt Lincoln’s party after holding a 1-0 lead for the majority of the game, but two last minute goals from Matt Rhead and Nathan Arnold saw The Imps seal a 2-1 win in dramatic fashion.
A penalty from Paddy McLaughlin looked like it might be have been enough for The Heed to nick a win against the league leaders, who had struggled to break down Gateshead’s defence for most of the game in front of a record league attendance at the International Stadium.
But a handball in the box in the final moments from Fyfield gave Lincoln the lifeline they needed and after dispatching the penalty through Rhead, a hopeful free-kick into the box at the death saw Nathan Arnold volley home to take them within two points of the National League title.
Right from the off, Gateshead looked to put Lincoln under as much pressure as possible and started the stronger of the two teams. Lincoln had been grinding out wins of late and despite being only a few wins away from the league title, The Heed were determined to make them fight for it.
George Smith and JJ O’Donnell were particularly impressive on the left hand side in the early stages, the latter making his first appearance at the International Stadium in well over two years.
The two delivered a series of dangerous crosses early on, but only Bolton managed to connect with one of them, the effort easily saved by Paul Farman.
The Imps on the other hand where struggling to play their football, as has so often been the case in the last few weeks, and were resorting to long balls up to Matt Rhead and Lee Angol for most of the first half.
However they remained compact at the back, and the towering figures of Raggett and Waterfall in defence meant that most of Gateshead’s good attacking wing play was snuffed out at the vital moments.
The duo were doing a great job of hounding Jordan Burrow, who was struggling to execute his usual target man role.
But eventually Gateshead got their reward for their good pressure after a huge error from Lincoln’s Sean Raggett.
Launching a counter attack from the back, Jordan Burrow dropped deep into the midfield and laid off Hannant on the right hand side.
The winger made a direct run towards goal, and his quick chopping and changing on the dribble looked to be worrying the defence. On reaching the penalty area, Hannant cut inside too quickly for Raggett, who completely mistimed his challenge and clattered straight into the midfielder instantly conceding a penalty.
The defender had already received a booking early on for a rash challenge, and was lucky to be let off by the referee on this occasion.
McLaughlin stepped up for the spot kick and slotted the ball coolly past Farman into the bottom right corner, sending the home crowd into rapturous cheers, and giving Gateshead the lead.
The rest of the half played out as it had begun, and Lincoln didn’t really seem to have an answer to The Heed’s goal, continuing to play the long ball game.
Yet this style of play has more than suited them in the end of season run-in and The Imps finally showed how dangerous they could be just before the end of the half.
Rhead, who had won his fair share of aerial duels throughout the half, knocked down another thump up field into the path of Arnold who found himself in the box unmarked.
The agile winger wasted no time in snatching at the chance and fired a ferocious half-volley towards the roof of the net. But luckily for Gateshead, Hanford then produced the save of the game to deny an equaliser, a one-handed tip over the bar as he was falling backwards, certainly one for the cameras.
Following on from that chance, The Imps came out fighting in the second half and a nervous Gateshead dropped right back into their own half, allowing them to pile on the pressure.
The opposition were unable to directly break down Hogan and Fyfield, but they were winning their fair share of corners and the defence did well to consistently head clear from the prying Raggett and Waterfall, who have continuously scored from set pieces this season with 14 goals between them.
Gateshead still looked to be a threat on the counter though, especially with Lincoln’s centre backs constantly bombing forward for corners. Wes York was particularly unlucky on one occasion as he was foiled in his attempt to slalom past two covering midfielders after a clearance almost found him with a clear breakaway.
Lincoln were growing frustrated too, and after an over-hit corner from Gateshead’s O’Donnell found Hogan on the left-hand side, Matt Rhead dragged the centre-half to the floor and looked to have conceded a free kick.
But as Hogan gestured to the referee, Rhead suddenly feigned he’d been punched after the incident in an attempt to have Hogan see red. Referee Peter Wright deemed the incident tame but still wrongfully booked Hogan in what was poor sportsmanship from Lincoln’s big man up top.
But after holding on for so long, all Gateshead’s good defending was eventually undone when a cross fired in by Sean Long was handled by Jamal Fyfield, the full-back conceding a penalty in the 90th minute.
Matt Rhead fired the penalty with aplomb into the top right corner and although Hanford dived the right way, there was no way anyone was saving such an important penalty for The Imps.
And suddenly, in a game where Lincoln had looked to be second best, they turned it all around within three minutes. After a foul on the halfway line from York, Farman launched a ball into the penalty area which was successfully headed on by Rhead into the path of Arnold, an almost carbon copy of the winger’s first half chance.
But this time Arnold, completely unmarked once again, chested it up into the air and then turned on the volley to place it into the back of the net past a static Hanford to seal the victory.
After some emphatic celebrations from the 2000 plus strong Lincoln away crowd, the referee blew the full time whistle shortly afterwards to end a disappointing afternoon for The Heed, the final score Gateshead 1-2 Lincoln City.
Gateshead: Hanford, Bolton, G. Smith, M. Smith, Hogan, Fyfield, York, Burrow, Hannant, McLaughlin, O’Donnell (Brundle 83’) Unused Subs: Bell, Wright, Mafuta, MacDonald
Goals: McLaughlin (pen 29’)
Bookings: Hogan (66), York (90+2)
Lincoln: Farman, Habergham, Whitehouse (Knott 62’), Waterfall, Rhead, Long, Raggett, Anderson (Ginnelly 59’), Arnold, Woodyard, Angol (Marriott 46’)
Unused Subs: Wood, Muldoon
Goals: Rhead (pen 90), Arnold (90+3)
Bookings: Raggett (6’), Arnold (90+4’)
Referee: Peter Wright
Attendance: 3770 (2486)