By Jonathan Corrall
Life after Sam Jones got off to a great start for Gateshead who recorded an impressive 3-0 home victory over struggling Southport.
VIEW GALLERY (Photographers: Charlie Waugh, Neil Smith & Dan Cooke)
Fielding a new 3-5-2 formation, Gateshead were the dominant team for the opening ten minutes, making good use of wing back George Smith down the left hand side who delivered a series of dangerous crosses early on.
The first of these was slightly mishit, but it still kept 19-year old Southport keeper Norman on his toes as it sailed just over the crossbar. Minutes later, another cross from Smith was deflected into the path of York whose flick on found Bolton, but the defender was unable to direct his header past Norman who collected with ease.
Despite being under pressure, Southport wasted no time in showing their threat on the counter. A quick through ball found Declan Weeks who gave Gateshead keeper Montgomery his first taste of action for the Heed, the new singing getting down well to parry a low shot heading for the bottom corner.
Southport continued to look exploitable, George Smith again offering two more devilish deliveries into the box in the space of five minutes. Bolton got on the end of the first but nodded over, and the second only just fizzed past a mass of Gateshead bodies who couldn’t get a foot on it.
But Southport hit back again in similar fashion, this time a through ball from McKeown found Allen, who strode past Hogan and fired the ball low into the corner but Montgomery made another fine save.
The Heed’s back three then began to look shaky, the unpredictability and pace of striker Jamie Allen causing lots of problems as he time after time found space with ease.
Just a minute after his first attempt, the forward sped down the right hand side and left Fyfield for dead with a neat turn which saw him go one-on-one, but his shot was once again well stopped by Montgomery, who was quickly proving to be a hit with the home crowd.
Seemingly about to fall apart after their good start, Gateshead finally made their early pressure count with another goal at home for fan favourite Jordan Burrow, his fifth in ten games.
As Gateshead bodies piled into the box, Bolton hit a strike from the right hand side which was well blocked. The ball then fell at the feet of Burrows who passed out to the wing and a clever dinked cross from Bolton allowed Burrow to head home from close range.
But for all their good work up front, the Heed were looking more and more vulnerable at the back.
A disaster of comic proportions almost cost them their lead when a lack of communication saw Montgomery and Fyfield go for the same cross. The keeper claimed the cross with ease only to drop it seconds later when Fyfield stumbled into him. The ball then fell at the feet of Liam Nolan inside the penalty area, who had only the goal to aim for, but his shot agonisingly hit the post.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Gateshead began to settle back into the half and soon enough it was George Smith again causing all the problems. The wing- back had been at the centre of everything for Gateshead and almost found the net after a clever cut-back from York saw him with a chance on goal. But Smith saw his subsequent effort well blocked by Cundy after taking too long to find his feet.
However the star-man made amends just seconds later, finally making Southport pay for all the space they afforded him, drilling a strike from the edge of the box, which nestled into the bottom right corner. A deserved first professional goal for the youngster coming just minutes before half-time.
Clearly feeling a little hard done by, Southport started the second half looking to make amends and almost did just that when a well hit curling cross from the left saw Andrai Jones leap well above Hogan and fire a strong header just wide of the post.
But Gateshead didn’t look like they were going to settle for a 2-0 score line and they came heartbreakingly close to getting their third just ten minutes into the second half. A low driven pass across the face of goal from Johnson found Bolton at the back post with the keeper completely out of position, the crowd were already on their feet when the defender excruciatingly watched his strike kept out by the post.
Southport were beginning to struggle to mount any attacks with Gateshead in cruise control and it wasn’t long before they got their third, George Smith winning the ball and laying off to Wes York whose through ball saw Johnson speed down the left wing and fire home through Norman’s legs from a tight angle, his 11th goal of the season.
The goal seemed to be the nail in the coffin for Southport who became very quiet for the remainder of the game, and with three points in the bag, Gateshead began to relent on their pressure with chances for both teams coming few and far between for the final thirty minutes.
Despite the quiet spell, Montgomery once again showed the Heed faithful just what they could look forward to for the remainder of the season after making an incredible save from another Jones header, using his reflexes to dive low and parry away. However the acrobatics were in vain as the forward was flagged for offside.
Another lobbing header from substitute Grimes was well tipped over the bar in stoppage time, helping Montgomery to keep his well-deserved clean sheet, Gateshead’s first in four months.
Gateshead then had what proved to be the final chance of the game, Bolton meeting a cross just outside the six yards box, but his volley was straight at Norman who steered the ball clear of the net with his legs.
The referee soon blew his whistle for full time, the final result Gateshead 3-0 Southport.
Gateshead: Montgomery, Bolton, G. Smith, M. Smith, Hogan, Fyfield, York, Johnson (Bell 73), Burrow, Mafuta, McLaughlin
Unused Subs: Hanford, Brundle, Ajala, Hannant
Goals: Burrow (27), G. Smith (43), Johnson (62)
Southport: Norman, Ashton, Nolan, Murray, Allen (Grimes 58), Hynes, Jones, Weeks (McKenna 58), McKeown, Cundy, Higgins
Unused Subs: Springthorpe, White, Wright
Referee: Thomas Bramall
Bookings: Gateshead – Bolton, McLaughlin; Southport – none
MOTM: George Smith
Attendance: 620 (77 away)