Here we preview the National League North Play-Off Eliminator as Gateshead are the visitors to St James Park on Sunday (kick-off 4pm).
The clubs have only ever met once. That encounter came in August 2019 at the Gateshead International Stadium. The sides were due to meet in the final league fixture of the season and so it is ironic that the play-offs pit the sides together again here in July.
A first ever meeting of the two clubs almost came in the 2017-18 season and at Wembley no less. But Gateshead lost out to Bromley in their FA Trophy semi-final while Saints triumphed over Wealdstone to go on to lift the famous trophy after an exhilarating final against National League Bromley.
The route into the play-offs came from Saints’ 3rd placed finish which was converted into 4th place on points per game while Gateshead were moved up from 8th to 7th on the points per game calculation jumping about Spennymoor Town.
The winners will play at semi-finalists Boston United next Saturday.
Having finished 9th in the 2018-19 season and then 17th after a points deduction, the Heed were demoted from National League and were placed in National League North. Under new owners and player-manager Mike Williamson, Gateshead began life last August in the sixth tier of football for the first time in ten years.
Gateshead play at the Gateshead International Stadium on the banks of the River Tyne, essentially an athletics stadium with international standard track, but used also for football and for a spell by the town’s rugby league team. In athletics, five world records have been set in the stadium including by Brandan Foster in the 3000m in 1974, Asafa Powell in the men’s 100m and Yelena Isinbayeva in the women’s pole vault. Built originally in 1955 it has been redeveloped several times. The stadium has two large covered stands but, as at Bradford (PA), viewing is long distance due to the athletics track. The stadium is a regular on the music concert circuit hosting the likes of Guns ‘n Roses, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Tina Turner (three times) and, in 2018, Little Mix.
Sunday’s game brings together two of the meanest defences in the division. While Saints only conceded 25 times in their 34 league games, Gateshead let in just 31 in their 31 games. Only Chester (28) and Brackley conceded fewer than the North-East club.
Three rule changes have been brought in. First teams may use 5 substitutes from a bench of six. The referee will stop play for short water breaks midway through each half and finally the game will be settled by a penalty shoot-out should it finish level after 90 minutes ie there will be no extra time.
The game is to be played behind closed doors with strict control measures in place following league protocols. The game is available to be watched however by a pay-per-view streaming service (see club website) or followed via live radio commentary from BBC Oxford and BBC Northampton.