Gateshead manager Steve Watson was delighted to see his young side make it two wins from two to start the 2018/19 season, as the Heed overcame title favourites Salford City 2-1 at home on Tuesday night.
It would be fair to suggest there is little outside expectation on Gateshead this season, as they set about building a new squad following a mass exodus over the summer, with the ownership of the club the subject of much uncertainty. After the collapse of a takeover in June, Richard and Julie Bennett announced the Tynesiders would have to revert to a part-time model.
Late last month, though, the Hong Kong-based businessman Dr Ranjan Varghese completed his acquisition of the Vanarama National League club. Watson had already agreed to stay in charge of the team for this season, assembling a side largely dominated by young North East players.
The Heed have begun the campaign with great promise, following up a 3-1 opening-day success at Maidenhead United with a 2-1 win over Salford City at the International Stadium last night. Despite the odds supposedly being heavily stacked in the visiting Ammies’ favour, Watson insists the match was not a ‘free hit’ for his side.
“I think too many people have too many opinions on what Salford do,” the ex-Newcastle United man said. “I think too many people have an opinion on how much money they spend.”
“All I’ve tried to do is concentrate on my job; that’s hard enough, and it’s been hard enough this summer.
“You set a side out to win every game. I picked the team, I changed a couple of players because I felt it was the right thing to do, and for Saturday (against Dover) I might do the same again, despite the performance.
“When you play against top sides in your own division you want to put a performance together, but as I say, I just think there’s too many who’ve got too much to say about Salford, so I just need to get on with my own job.”
Watson is enthused by the continuing progress of his side, who played with clear energy and purpose to secure the victory.
“I think they’ve improved every game they’ve played and they’ve come up against different challenges. We went to Guiseley, which is more like a team we’re going to face three or four times this season, and we stood up to that.
“Then we went away from home in searing heat on Saturday and managed to play very well and outplay Maidenhead. Then for most of the game tonight, against a side who will certainly be up there this season.
“Certainly after 20 minutes, when we realised we could hurt them and more than compete with them, I thought we were the dominant side. So they’re improving, and who knows where they can go?
“But as I say, we’re not getting carried away just yet.”
After Adam Rooney headed Salford into the lead in the first half, Gateshead levelled from the penalty spot through 22-year-old striker Luke Armstrong, who is the son of former Ipswich Town frontman and current Blyth Spartans manager Alun Armstrong. Armstrong is on loan from Middlesbrough for the season, and he scored the winner in the second half as he raced through on goal, making it three already for the campaign.
Watson has been familiar with the Boro prospect for some time, having been on Lee Clark’s coaching staff at Birmingham City when the striker was in the youth ranks, and he had little doubt he would make an impression at Gateshead.
“Well I know him, and I know his family, and you know he’s no type of gamble.
“You know what type of character he is, you know what type of work ethic he’s got, but since I saw him last he’s also added a lot of quality to his game as well. We knew we’d get the rest of it but you’re constantly delighted when you see how good he is with his back to goal, how much of a headache he gives opposition defenders.
“He’s been fantastic for us, but we knew he would be.”
With the takeover in the bag and the team already gelling and getting results, Watson agrees there is a freshness about the place just recently, with everyone able to be especially buoyant.
“Yeah, we have to be, because it’s been a tough summer for everybody; the fans, myself. I think we lost 18 players over the summer without ever being given the green light to sign anybody; it seemed to take forever.
“The first ones we wanted to keep hold of were our young lads because we knew they were going to get better and better, and we knew they were good characters. We kept hold of Fraser (Kerr) and Scott Barrow, who are two fantastic players; we haven’t even had Scott for one training session yet, which has been a bit of a nightmare, but other lads have stepped up.
“As pre-season’s gone on, you trust your recruitment, people that you know from the area, and we’ve put together some good young players; young North East players really.”
Although attention quickly begins to switch towards this Saturday’s home game with Dover Athletic, the former Aston Villa and Everton player says he will allow himself to enjoy the moment, given the considerable character and promise shown by his team.
“Yeah, they’re a good bunch of lads. It’s my job and Micky’s (assistant manager Micky Cummins) job, and Ben Clark’s job, maybe (ex-Newcastle defender) Mike Williamson if we can get him over the line this week, and some of the senior lads to keep everybody up to speed and up to their jobs and not get carried away.
“Ultimately, it’s two games in a 46-game season, with games coming thick and fast, and different types of conditions. Because of the budget, Saturday we ended up having to leave 6 o’clock in the morning on the day of the game, so there’s plenty thrown at us, but I’ll certainly enjoy it tonight.
“Then as every manager’ll tell you, back to graft tomorrow, preparing the best way we can to beat Dover.”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes