By Dominic Scurr
GATESHEAD kicked-off their Vanarama National League Campaign with a 2-1 defeat away to Woking.
Torrential conditions at the Laithwaite Community Stadium didn’t help proceedings early on, but once the weather cleared a proper game of football emerged and the goals soon followed.
First-half debut strikes from Inih Effiong and Joe Ward saw the Cards emerge victorious despite Danny Johnson levelling things up midway through the opening 45.
The early stages of the match could barely be seen through the downpour that was taking place in Surrey but Woking certainly seemed to have the better of it as Ward broke into the penalty area and forced Heed stopper James Montgomery to make a fine save at his near post.
At the other end, Johnson came within inches of opening the scoring as his fine edge of the box volley whizzed just past the right post after Paddy McLaughlin set the ball up.
But soon after the Cards took the lead as debutant striker Effiong burst through the Heed back-line and into the penalty area before poking the ball home on the rebound after his initial effort was blocked.
Johnson immediately got a shot on target after the restart but it was comfortably dealt with by Nathan Baxter in the Woking net.
The hosts had the early momentum but that was somewhat stunted by an injury to Fabio Saraiva which held up play for a few minutes.
And no more than 30 seconds after Saraiva’s departure from the pitch, the Heed were level as Johnson’s deflected 20-yard volley managed to sneak past Baxter and nestle in the bottom right corner of the goal.
Johnson netted 18 times for the Tynesiders last season before having his campaign cut short due to a fractured metatarsal so it will be pleasing to see the forward get off the mark so quickly into the new season.
Both sides struggled to take control of the game after the goal. Woking were still able to create a half chance as a good interception from Theo Vassell led to opposing midfielder Chez Isaac scooping wide after Ward picked up the loose ball.
As half-time approached the Heed, once again, found themselves trailing as Bobson Brawling’s pass fell to Ward in acres of space inside the area and the former Brighton youngster shot low, across Montgomery and found the bottom right corner of the goal with deadly precision.
The strike gave the home side a 2-1 lead at the break but the game was still well within Gateshead’s grasp as they looked to come from behind.
Just minutes after the game got back underway, Woking were threatening the Gateshead goal as Isaac’s 25-yard strike rose just over the crossbar.
Soon, the Cards came close to making it 3-1 once more as Isaac’s 15-yard strike ricocheted back off the left hand post before an unmarked Effiong turned the ball over from six yards only to see his blushes somewhat spared by the offside flag.
It was a let off for the visitors and they almost made Woking pay as substitute Robbie Tinkler’s defence splitting pass played in Jordan Preston who could have drew his side level had it not been for some excellent defensive play from Josh Staunton.
Into the final 20 minutes and substitute Jamie Philpot should have made it three as he connected with Ward’s corner but failed to find the target from just a few yards out with his head.
Gateshead predictably started to pile on the pressure in the closing stages as they searched for an equaliser with full-back Scott Barrow putting in a number of good crosses from the left but unfortunately there was never a teammate there to turn the ball in.
Despite all of their late dominance, Gateshead’s last real chance of the game came with 10 minutes to play as Tinkler laid-off Preston who half-volleyed the ball just wide of the top right corner from 20-yards.
After that, the Tynesiders continued to push but it was to no avail as Woking managed to hang on for an opening day three points.
Gateshead will now look to Tuesday night’s match against Guiseley as their chance to get their season up and running.
Gateshead: Montgomery; Vassell, Byrne (C), Kerr (Tinkler 46), Fyfield, Barrow; Penn (Peniket 72), McLaughlin; Johnson, Burrow, Preston
Subs not used: Hanford (gk), Green, Mellish
Goals: Johnson (26)
Woking: Baxter; Ramsay, Ralph, Jones, Staunton, Orlu (c), Bawling (Philpot 70), Isaac, Effiong, Saraiva (Carter 25), Ward (Ferdinand 90+2)
Subs not used: Mason, Young
Goals: Effiong (17), Ward (44)
Referee: Adam Bromley
Attendance: 1705 (28 Gateshead)