Gateshead manager Neil Aspin has admitted that keeping their unbeaten run going until the end of the season may not be enough to secure a Vanarama National League play-off spot.
The Tynesiders are currently on a ten-match unbeaten run going into the last six games of the season and sit just two places outside of the play-off positions.
Seven wins in their last ten games has propelled the Heed into contention and a 3-1 defeat at Torquay United remains Gateshead’s only league reverse since the turn of the year.
As they prepare to head to fellow play-off contenders Dover Athletic, the Heed boss was honest in his assessment of reaching the play-offs for the first time since they suffered final heartache against Cambridge United in 2014.
He said “We want to keep it going and we know if we stay unbeaten until the end of the season we would have a chance of the play-offs, but even then it wouldn’t be guaranteed.
“You do take draws on occasions but I think we need wins.
“If you were playing any team in the run-in, they all have their own problems and are desperate to get the points. That can make you tense.
“I am happy with the way the players have applied themselves since Christmas, they have done well since Christmas.
“They have been consistant, they have scored in every game so I feel we have been positive.
“We just have to keep it going but they will be tested in these next six games.
“We still have Lincoln City to play as well but we will sit down and see where we need to improve”
Title-chasing Lincoln City, Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green Rovers look to have two of the four play-off spots, but as many as six sides are fighting it out for the remaining two places.
Macclesfield Town’s 1-3 defeat at home to relegation-threatened York City dealt a major blow to the Silkmen’s chances of securing a play-off spot but Aspin believes that his side only need to focus on themselves as the crucial Easter period looms.
Aspin admitted “I think it’s hard for Macclesfield because of the amount of games they have. They are outsiders but you certainly can’t right them off”
“If they get back-to-back wins they are back in it and you know they can beat anyone on any given day so I wouldn’t rule them out.
“We just have to get our own results. It’s silly to worry about others because if we don’t get results, we rule ourselves out. We are all looking at results but it’s hard to get results to go your way.
“Last weekend they went against us.
“Then you have Easter when you play Friday and Monday and two results can swing it for you.
“It’s nice to be involved, I really would like us to be involved right up to the last game of the season and we have the opportunity to do that but we must pick up some wins”
Saturday’s long trip to Dover provides Aspin’s side with a tough test of their play-off credentials.
The Whites have been in and around the play-offs for the majority of the season and have the National League’s top scorer within their squad.
Ricky Miller has scored thirty two times in the league this season and Aspin sees similarities with the Heed’s own Danny Johnson, although he believes the former Guisborough Town striker could learn a lesson from his Dover counterpart.
Aspin stated “I think both teams are capable of scoring goals and I think (Ricky) Miller is having a fantastic season, scoring a lot of goals. He is similar to Danny Johnson as a player but maybe he is more aggressive.
“It is part of Danny’s game that he could benefit from, having a bit more aggression but certainly, they are similar.
“Miller is someone we have to keep quiet. At home he scored, he had a few chances, you always felt there was danger when he had the ball, so yes we have to keep him quiet.
“You can’t give him time, you can’t give him space, you need to be alert and keep your concentration.
“Try and get him on his right foot but it’s not easy to do that, it’s up to our defenders to not give him time and space.
“They will need to be at their best”
A number of the Gateshead squad have missed training this week but Aspin received a boost with the news that midfielder JJ O’Donnell could be set to make a comeback after a three-year injury nightmare.
It was 2014 when O’Donnell last put on a Gateshead shirt in a competitive game, with a rare foot condition called sesamoidtis threatening to end his career.
Gateshead have kept him involved, with various duties around the club but this week saw him back out on the pitch and he played seventy minutes in a game against Newcastle United Under-23s.
Aspin gave a positive update on the progress O’Donnell has made.
He explained “He is now at a stage for the first time where he can play football again”
“It has been a long process, he has had a lot of setbacks and he has gone through a lot in terms of trying to get back to playing football.
“He has kept going and everytime he has had a setback it hasn’t stopped him from trying to make a comeback.
“We felt that now was the time, he was joining in training and wasn’t getting any pay so we through him in the deep end really.
“He got through it alright and we will try and arrange a couple of more games before the end of the season. He is registered to play so he is an extra player to the squad.
“I wouldn’t throw him into a game if it was a vital stage of the game but whether he can get into the sixteen before the end of the season, I wouldn’t rule it out but it’s nice to see him back playing.
“He couldn’t start but this week we have had a few injuries, a few players that couldn’t train.
“So we will take him as part of the squad for the Dover game and if the injuries don’t clear up he would go on the bench.
“Having said that I wouldn’t throw him on after ten minutes, or at a vital stage in the game but he is at a stage where he can at least be another player in the squad”
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: Gateshead FC / Reuters Media