By Dominic Scurr
BEN Clark’s unbeaten start as Gateshead manager was brought to an end as his side lost 1-0 at Solihull Moors after being reduced to 10-men.
A frigid evening in the West Midlands saw Heed defender Mike Williamson dismissed in the first half before a close-range header from Nathan Blissett claimed three points for the high-flying Moors.
It was a defeat that ended the Tynesiders’ eight-game unbeaten run in the National League as they dropped out of the play-off places to eighth.
Clark made one change from Saturday’s 2-1 win over Barnet at the International Stadium as Jack Hunter came in for teenage midfielder Elliot Forbes, who had been struggling with a tight hamstring.
The Moors named an unchanged 11 as they looked to bounce back from their 2-0 defeat away to fellow promotion chasers Salford City.
The Heed had not been beaten since they last faced Solihull back in early January. A 2-1 defeat which proved to be former manager Steve Watson’s final game in charge.
The first chance of the match fell to Gateshead after eight minutes as a clever back-heel flick from Steve Rigg released Greg Olley who raced toward goal before seeing his 15-yard deflected strike tipped wide by Moors’ stopper Ryan Boot.
Solihull’s physically effective approach to the game had the potential to cause the Heed some problems but it took until the 19th minute for Tim Flowers’ side to conjure up their first meaningful opportunity of the match. Had it not been for a remarkable point-blank save from Tynesiders’ goalkeeper Aynsley Pears, the Moors would have been ahead as the Middlesbrough loanee somehow tipped Alex Gudger’s powerful strike to safety.
At the other end, Gateshead skipper Scott Barrow blazed an angled effort over the Solihull crossbar from 20-yards.
The Moors’ previous home match saw them run out as 5-0 winners against Maidstone United. That attacking potency was something the Heed had to be wary of as the hosts pushed for an opener.
Gateshead were standing strong against the imposing Moors but were dealt a hammer-blow five minutes before half-time as Williamson was shown a straight red card for an off the ball incident involving former Tynesider Danny Wright.
It was the third time in four matches that the Heed have had a player sent-off against Solihull – yet on each of the previous two occasions, the match ended level.
That was starting to look like the best case scenario for the Tynesiders as Clark’s unbeaten start as manager looked under serious threat.
Almost instantly, the visitors got a taste of just how difficult the second half would prove to be as they were pegged back for the remainder of the first half.
A typically long ball forward fell to Moors’ joint top scorer Jermaine Hylton inside the Gateshead penalty area but Pears rushed off his line well to do enough to force the striker to shoot into the side netting. The referee brought a goalless opening 45 to an end moments later.
Four minutes into the second half, Pears’ goal was under threat once again. A long throw-in fell to Hylton just inside the Gateshead penalty area as the former Swindon Town man hooked a turning half-volley wide of the right post.
Hylton came close again moments later as he was blocked twice by Pears in the midst of a back-post scramble before trickling out for a Solihull corner.
The hosts made their one-man advantage count just after the hour mark as an unmarked Blissett nodded Darren Carter’s corner into the middle of the Gateshead net from close range.
It was a goal that always looked to be coming from Solihull as a difficult task for Clark’s men was just made that bit harder.
Solihull, not content with their 1-0 lead, continued to push for a second as Jamey Osborne’s free-kick fell to Liam Daly who was thwarted by yet another fine close-range stop by Pears.
The 20-year-old goalkeeper was named Man of the Match in the reverse fixture against Solihull and was doing his best to claim the accolade once again as he pulled off one more phenomenal diving save to tip Adi Yussuf’s turning strike which looked destined for the top corner of the goal.
Had it not been for Pears, the scoreline could have been worse but the game finished 1-0 as Solihull continued their title challenge.
Solihull Moors (4-3-3): Boot; Vaughan, Daly, Gudger, Reckord; Carter (Maxwell 71), Storer ©, Osbourne; Blissett, Wright )Yussuf 77), Hylton (Carline 87)
Subs not used: Williams, Stenson
Goals: Blissett (61)
Bookings: Carter (67)
Gateshead (3-5-2): Pears; Devitt, Williamson, Mellish; Tinkler, Hunter (Maloney 78), Olley (O’Donnell 46), White, Barrow ©; Rigg, Thomson (Salkeld 67)
Subs not used: Foden, McGeoch
Bookings: Barrow (62)
Sendings-off: Williamson (40)
Referee: James Oldham
Attendance: 924 (30 Gateshead)
MOTM: Aynsley Pears