THEY were expecting their next game to be against struggling Nuneaton Town, but instead it is leaders Grimsby Town. In the Conference Premier, Gateshead manager Anth Smith says it makes little difference.
The Tynesiders had hoped for a rare home game against relegation-threatened Nuneaton on Saturday, only for it to be called off 24 hours in advance because of the International Stadium pitch.
The surface, new this season, will be relaid but not until next week, so there are no guarantees tonight’s game will be on either.
Manager Anth Smith (pictured right) cautioned against treating the Nuneaton match as a “gimme”, and for the same reasons he is full of hope for tonight.
“There’s no one adrift at the bottom of the table, and no one who has pulled away at the top,” he said. “It’s a league where anyone can beat anyone. We will prepare in the same mindset as for everyone.”
Gateshead need no reminding of the Conference Premier’s unpredictability, having lost at home to bottom club Barrow on New Year’s Day.
They have managed two extra training sessions since the postponement, and have a full squad to choose from. That includes striker Liam Henderson, whose loan from York City has been extended until the end of the season.
While Smith was understandably keen to see what was due to be only his second home game played, he hopes his team make the most of the circumstances. “It was very frustrating,” he said. “It would be nice to get some fixtures under our belt and get some familiarity back with the supporters.
“But we’ve had a couple of days’ training since. We were able to get a session in on the Saturday when the game was called off, and we had another on Monday.
“The lads are in good spirit and they should have a little bit of extra energy back in their legs.” Last week Smith confirmed his backroom team – although assistant David Rush and first-team coach Paul Bryson have been in situ since he took the reins in mid-December.
“I’ve known David for a number of years, having played with him and beyond that,” said former Sunderland team-mate Smith.
“He’s a very good man-manager and he’s got a big experience of the game. He’s hungry to stay in football and for the past few years he’s been working in coaching and scouting.
“I’ve worked with Brys for the last four years and we’ve had a bit of success together.
“He’s a very good, experienced coach, with experience of this league.
“He’s worked part-time with the club for the last two years so he knows the set-up. Between the three of us we should have more than enough experience to make sure it goes well.
“The big thing is we’re singing from the same hymn sheet.” A laser-levelled pitch was installed in the summer, but the southern goal area in particular is struggling to drain.
"There have been several recent major additions and improvements to the facilities at the International Stadium,” explained chairman Graham Wood. "All of which makes the teething problems with the playing surface laid in the summer particularly frustrating.
"Regrettably, the new turf and the preparation immediately below is acting as a cap which is slowing the flow rate of rain water to the drains. This together with the recent record levels of rainfall has led to the pitch remaining waterlogged beyond normal time spans.
"The worst affected areas will be re-turfed and the addition of sand bands throughout the entire pitch to assist with the flow of surface water to the drains will be considered in consultation with independent advisors.
"During next close season, further remedial work including scarifying and aeration treatments will be carried out.”