The wind howled around the stadium, the rain drove its way across the pitch and the shrill of the referee’s whistle pierced the chorus of dissent from the stands.




A cacophony of anger and frustration provided the soundtrack to the final throes of Malcolm Crosby’s Gateshead reign.

A promising start to the season had subsided into a poor run of form but this performance was a new low.

This final blow was delivered by a FC Halifax Town side that played over half of the game with ten men, yet still inflicted an embarrassing 4-1 defeat on the Tynesiders.

In reality the defeat could and should have been heavier.

The passionate Heed Army made their way home through the chilling late Autumn air, disconsolate, demoralised and dispirited.

Unsurprisingly Crosby’s tenure was brought to an end just over twenty four hours later.
gateshead

New owners Richard and Julie Bennett were firm in their belief that the next manager would be someone that knew the area, knew the league and knew the supporter’s needs.

That man was Gateshead-born Neil Aspin.

The ship was steadied and after a summer of changes on and off the park, not to mention Crosby’s departure, the Heed finished in ninth position.

Far from the hard work being over, Aspin got to work overhauling the Gateshead squad.

Club stalwart James Curtis left the club after twelve years, as he, along with fellow Heed team mates Jamie Chandler and Rob Ramshaw found new employment with ambitious Evo-Stik Northern Premier League club Spennymoor Town.

Goalkeer Sam Russell returned to former club Forest Green Rovers, Craig Baxter and Jon Shaw made their way to the Northern League with South Shields, attacking midfielder Josh Gillies moved to Darlington.

James Marwood, Jimmy Phillips and Darren Holden were all released.

A new, fresh looking Gateshead, in Aspin’s mould was put together.

Signings were announced daily, as the likes of Macclesfield Town striker Reece Styche, Carlisle United’s Antony Sweeney (pictured) and Wrexham winger Wes York agreeing moves to the North East.

Fourteen new faces in total began their careers on Tyneside

With new signings comes new challenges, not least ensuring that the blend of new personalities coming into the dressing room works ahead of a challenging season.

Anthony SweeneyHowever, Aspin believes that the timing of the Heed’s transfer business has allowed him to learn about his new recruits.

He said “We did our business early and a lot of players come in during that period.

“That gave me time to assess what would be our best formation for those players to play and how we would approach the season.

“Obviously you get different performances in pre-season, which you then question if things will work, is this the right way to go?”

“But I stuck to my initial thoughts on the players, the good start can hopefully continue but it certainly justifies the way we play when you look at our first two league performances”

He continued “You only get to know what players are about when you train with them day in, day out.

“The only initial contact you have with them are the discussions over the transfer, to get them to sign, but the more you work with them, the more you find out about them.

“You can speak to people, you do your homework finding out about their characters and you will have seen them play yourself but until you work with them regularly, you can’t really say you know them.

“We got them in early so I think that gave me the opportunity to know the lads that I haven’t worked with before”

Aspin was named as Gateshead manager in late November, meaning the former Port Vale defender returned to work in his hometown for the first time since leaving to start his aspin port valeplaying career with Leeds United in 1982.

Consecutive 1-0 wins against Chester and Kidderminster Harriers got Aspin’s reign off to a positive start and he suffered only two defeats in his opening ten games in charge of the club, albeit with one of them being a heavy home defeat against Woking.

The Tynesiders solidified in mid-table, although suffered a blow losing in an FA Trophy quarter final replay against eventual winners and Aspin’s former club FC Halifax Town, on a night when Gateshead had enough chances to win two or three games.

Throughout the campaign Aspin was assessing his squad, planning for his first full season in charge.

Tough decisions were made, not least the release of some of the club’s longest serving players, but Aspin felt that changes were necessary as he looks to put the club in a position to challenge for promotion to the Football League.

“I came in and was able to assess the players over half a season” said Aspin.

“That was enough time to make up my own mind on what was required here.  Football is all about opinions and you don’t always please everybody but there needed to be a big change in personnel and we needed to introduce a lot of new things at the club.

“Again, you can have a lot of ideas, but you get judged on what happens on the pitch, simple as that.

“We try to do everything properly, we prepare the players properly and it’s up to them to perform on the pitch.

“We are only two games in of course, but every point is hard to get in this league and you can’t underestimate any team in this league”

One of the biggest challenges facing Aspin was improving Gateshead’s home form.

international stadiumDuring the 2015/16 the Heed were beaten in ten of their twenty three home games in the Vanarama National League, including losing five of their last six fixtures at the International Stadium.

So it was obvious that there would be some trepidation as they opened their 2016/17 home campaign with a game against Chester.

A tentative opening half to the season saw the deadlock unbroken at the interval.

The second half was more positive, with the Heed scoring three goals without reply to get their season up and running in the best possible way.

Aspin believes that the design of the International Stadium works against his club, but urged his side, and the Heed Army, to work together to help make their home a fortress.

“There is no way to gloss over it, the home form was really poor” admitted Aspin.

“There isn’t an advantage at home for us, we have a stadium where it is tough to create an atmosphere because of the size and the shape of it.

“We are open to the elements more than most clubs in this league.

“We want to make it a fortress so we just have to get on with that, improve the home form and challenge at the right end of the league.

“That will improve our chances of attracting more spectators, improving the atmosphere and we can all help to improve our chances throughout the season”

Hot on the heel of their opening day win was another comprehensive victory.

Again the Heed came out on top with a 3-0 win, this time at Southport.

Although scoring six goals in two games pleases Aspin, he will be more satisfied with keeping two consecutive clean sheets.

Last season the club conceded seventy goals in the National League, just one less than
Aspin heedrelegated Kidderminster Harriers and three less than basement club Welling United.

The fact that Gateshead have kept two consecutive clean sheets becomes more impressive when you take into consideration that the back four, including goalkeeper Sam Johnson are new signings.

Aspin prioritised an improvement in their defensive discipline, as he revealed that hard work on the training pitch has led to the improved displays in their opening two fixtures of the new season.

He said “We have worked hard on the training pitch on the defensive side of things.

“When you play the formation we play, a lot of it depends on communication and organisation.

“That takes time, so you work at it and work at it and the more you do that, the better it gets.

“We conceded far too many goals last season and I believe you can’t be successful in any league until you work on things and become solid defensively.

“We have tried to do that and we will be tested over the season, but we had to get the goals against column down before we did anything else here”

Next up for Gateshead is a trip to National League title favourites Forest Green Rovers, three days later they entertain another side tipped to challenge for promotion as recently relegated York City make the relatively short trip to the International Stadium.

Although the Heed’s next two opponents are seen as promotion challengers, the same can’t be said of Gateshead themselves.

Seen by many as an outside bet for the play-offs, the club have gone largely under the radar when it comes to promotion talk in the National League.

For Aspin, the issue is irrelevant, as he focuses on getting the best out of his side on a regular basis, in the belief that by doing this they will get the results they need to achieve their goals this season.

“To be honest it wouldn’t matter what the odds are with the bookmakers, as a manager you just want to do well so they don’t really come on to your radar.

“You are under pressure because you always want to get results.

“There are always fancied teams in any league, especially this one, it doesn’t bother me really.

“We just set our own team out, they know their roles on the pitch, it’s really simple.

“We ask them to give 100%, we ask them to do themselves justice, and if they do that we will get results”

That target of getting results has started well, as Neil Aspin’s quiet revolution at Gateshead begins.

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)

Images: Gateshead FCwww.actionimages.com


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