By Jack McGraghan
Gateshead played out a 1-1 draw with play-off rivals Ebbsfleet United at the International Stadium in a week where off-field issues have threatened both clubs.
A vocal display from the Heed Army was rewarded after just four minutes as Jon Mellish headed home from a corner to hand Gateshead the initiative.
The Fleet hauled themselves level an hour later through ex-Heed man Chris Bush, who headed in from close range after the visitors had knocked on the door.
Fans arrived at the International Stadium in fine voice and made themselves heard before kick-off, something that translated to the Heed’s early performance on the pitch as they took the lead.
Greg Olley’s corner picked out Mellish in the centre of a box largely filled with blue shirts, but the defender rose highest to head past Ebbsfleet ‘keeper Nathan Ashmore and give the hosts a boost.
Despite Gateshead’s dominance during the opening 10 minutes, Ebbsfleet replied with a big chance of their own after 12 minutes only for Aynsley Pears to deny Gozie Ugwu’s close-range header, before Michael Cheek skied the rebound from 12 yards.
Proceedings were a more even affair for much of the first-half and both sides saw little in the way of opportunities, although the Fleet could have found themselves level with a similar chance on 40 minutes.
Myles Weston’s cross found Ugwu at the back post once more and as with the first chance it was Pears who got down well to preserve Gateshead’s lead, before Dave Winfield struck the post from the rebound followed swiftly by a free-kick the hosts’ way.
The visitors had the better of the final five minutes before the break and looked to fashion opportunities from wide areas, with Ebou Adams’ cross into Cheek well blocked by the sliding challenge from Scott Barrow in the six-yard box.
The first chance of the second 45 fell Gateshead’s way however as Rigg and Olley combined before the latter fired just wide of the far post via a slight deflection.
It didn’t take long for Ebbsfleet to reply with another chance of their own, and they were left scratching their heads as to how they hadn’t equalised as Dean Rance was played clean through only for Pears’ fingertip save to deny him from point-blank range.
The Heed’s defences were tested again moments later and this time it was the turn of Jack Hunter to come to the rescue as he cleared Winfield’s header off the line before the defender put the rebound over.
With just over 25 minutes remaining Ebbsfleet finally broke through as Ugwu’s cross was met by former Gateshead man Bush from close range to level the game up.
Connor Thomson came close to restoring his side’s lead moments later, latching on to Cameron Salkeld’s ball in behind only to see his shot deflected wide by Ashmore.
Both sides pushed in search of an all-important winner as the game edged towards its closing stages but neither could find the breakthrough as the spoils were shared come the final whistle.
Gateshead (3-5-2): Pears; Tinkler, Devitt, Mellish; Barrow (c), Hunter (Forbes, 61’), Olley, White, Salkeld; Rigg, Thomson.
Subs not used: Foden, O’Donnell, Maloney, McGeoch.
Goals: Mellish (4’)
Bookings: Barrow (20’), Hunter (36’), Thomson (49’)
Ebbsfleet United (4-4-2): Ashmore; King, Bush, Magri, Winfield (c); Payne, Adams (Drury, 73’), Rance (Whitely, 75’), Weston; Cheek (Kedwell, 80’), Ugwu.
Subs not used: Moncur, Graham.
Goals: Bush (64’)
Bookings: Weston (20’), Bush (72’)
Referee: Tom Reeves
Attendance: 798 (82 Ebbsfleet)
MOTM: Greg Olley