Hednesford Town make the long journey North East to face Skrill Conference Premier outfit Gateshead in the FA Trophy First Round with the warning ringing in their ears, sounded by manager Rob Smith, that his team face a very difficult task.
Location wise Gateshead was one of the longest trips The Pitmen could have faced when the draw was made and Smith believes his team’s track record with travelling long distances this season and the fact The Tynesiders are a a quality outfit means he has no expectations going into the game at the International Stadium.
‘Gateshead are full time and they have an abundance of quality players. Since Gary Mills has come in they have had a sensational set of results so without doubt, taking everything into account, we could not have been given a harder task.
‘I’m not sure the two games against Workington and West Auckland showed we can cope with travelling.
‘In reality we only drew both and we were very tired for the Workington game. The travelling has a massive effect on us, it’s never ideal to travel that far and then play ninety minutes, especially against a team like Gateshead, but we must just get on with it.
‘We are going to enjoy the occasion, be as prepared as we can and see how we go but there are no expectations on the team from me.’
Despite the difficult nature of the test, Smith is allowing his squad to take advantage of the famed North East nightlife following the game, in part to build the bond between those in the squad, but also to keep a relaxed atmosphere ahead of a very busy festive period.
‘It’s more an early Christmas night out but it’s important every now and then for the players to unwind as a team. It is a very intense schedule for a non league footballer and the lead up to Christmas is going to be a very testing time for us, so any sort of team bonding will help carry us through.’
Team news wise, there are a number of players struggling to be fit for the game following training last night, with Robbie Thompson-Brown (ankle), Nathan Woolfe (thigh) and Neil Harvey (groin) all doubtful but new loan signing from Nuneaton, striker Greg Pearson, should be available once his paperwork is completed today.
The Pitmen have had the better fortunes travelling to The International Stadium in years gone by and have scored no less than 14 goals in five matches since the teams’ first meeting in 1995/96. A 3-2 win led by Ross Dyer in 2006 is a particular stand out result, as is the 5-2 hammering in 1997, but Hednesford’s most recent trip to Gateshead ended in a chastening 6-2 defeat under Phil Starbuck in September 2007.
Pitmen supporters will no doubt be hoping for another goal-fest on Saturday afternoon as they travel past the Angel of the North but in reality, with Gateshead on an upward curve having won eight of their last eleven matches, a hard-earned draw and ensuing replay under the lights at Keys Park would stand as ample return for Rob Smith’s Skrill North outfit.
Hednesford Town Form – WWLWLL
Previous Result – Newcastle Town 2 Hednesford Town 0 – Staffordshire FA Senior Cup Quarter Final – Tuesday 26th November 2013
Next Fixture – Walsall (H) – Birmingham FA Senior Cup 2nd Round – Tuesday 3rd December 2013
League Position – 1st
Gateshead Form – WDDLWW
Previous Result – Dartford 0 Gateshead 1 – Skrill Conference Premier – Saturday 23rd November 2013
Next Fixture – Oxford United (H) – FA Cup First Round Replay – Thursday 5th December 2013
League Position – 10th
KO – 3pm
Address of Ground – The International Stadium, Neilson Road, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, NE10 OEF
Adults – £10
Concessions – £5
Under 16’s – £2