Danny Kedwell scored his 50th goal for the Fleet, his first hat-trick for the club and helped his side into fifth place to require only a point next Saturday to extend the season into the play-offs.
It was an assured performance by the Fleet against a side beaten only once at home this year with fine goals by Luke Coulson and Jack Powell to top things off and entertain the 40+ travelling fans. It was also a tale of two Dannys, with Johnson of Gateshead having scored his 50th for the Heed at the weekend and he traded goals with Kedwell for an hour of this match.
Down to the barebones with Sean Shields out injured, Daryl McMahon was at least grateful for Andy Drury’s ability to shake off his illness. Luke Coulson returned in place of Shields in the only change from Saturday’s defeat to Sutton.
Off the back of two defeats, Gateshead looked purposeful in the opening minutes with Wes York, Paddy McLaughlin and Danny Johnson looking to rough up the Fleet centre backs. On a slippery surface, Nathan Ashmore had to get behind one early low drive from Johnson and several times Gateshead got sight of goal around the ‘D’ but were closed down quickly.
It took Fleet a while to venture forward and Jack Powell looked to release his wide players to little avail. But it was Powell who produced the half’s best moment after just 6 minutes, teeing himself up for a shot from 20 yards that goalkeeper James Montgomery got a touch on, enough to send it on to the outside of the post.
Powell was again in action six minutes later when Danny Kedwell threaded a neat pass into the box but it skipped off the surface to reach Montgomery ahead of Powell.
On 17 minutes, Kedwell had a good chance to find the target when Drury lifted a chip into the box and Fleet’s top scorer swung at it first-time, skying the shot over the bar.
Gateshead came back into it on 21 minutes, winning a corner from a goalmouth scramble but Coulson roared up the other end on the counterattack, producing a great crossfield pass that led to a head-to-head sprint between Whitely and Montgomery that the goalkeeper won.
A Powell free kick drew a good save from Montgomery and out for a corner, before Powell then knocked another shot just over. Montgomery made another stop from Whitely cutting into the box before Gateshead had a huge chance at the other end when Jordan Preston flashed a shot across goal that Ashmore pushed behind for a corner with a smart stretch.
But having survived that scare, Fleet led on 33 minutes. Kedwell flicked on a long ball forward that found Coulson bustling through the middle and as he ran free of the defenders, Montgomery came out and took his legs. Kedwell stepped up to blast home the penalty and his 50th club goal.
Coulson was enjoying himself and had a couple of runs in and out of Gateshead defenders, seeing a shot gathered by Montgomery, who also caught a cheeky Powell free kick that was played the wrong side of the wall.
But just as the Fleet looked assured of a lead at the break, Gateshead equalised on the stroke of half-time. It came via an attack down the right from Preston and as the defence failed to clear, a shot was almost gathered by Ashmore but ran free and Danny Johnson pounced to force over the line.
The early moments of the second half gave little indication of what was to unfold although there were a couple of chances. Kedwell’s formidable run to the byline from the left saw a low delivery fired just off target by Whitely from close range while at the other end Wes York’s quick turn and shot flew past Ashmore and the post.
The game settled into a lull after that until the 62nd minute when Coulson robbed Penn of the ball in his own half, raced forward and launched a pass into the middle that was helped on to Kedwell at the right side of the box by Drury. From there Kedwell forced his way into the area and let fly with a shot past Montgomery for 2-1.
Kenny Clark made a superb sliding tackle in the Fleet box moments later but Gateshead were back on terms with a near carbon copy of their first goal, Johnson forcing home a scramble after Ashmore had initially made the save from McLaughlin’s turn and strike.
It seemed it would take a monumental task for the Fleet to go ahead a third time but they did just that on 71 minutes. Chris Bush had just ridden three challenges to get a shot off with a cracking solo run inside the box before Powell did much the same to win a corner. From that set piece, Kedwell accepted the chance to slam home his hat-trick for 3-2.
Three minutes later it was 4-2 with a piece of magic. Drury, in space down the left, awaited Coulson’s movement and although a defender got in the way, Coulson gathered the ball under control and rasped a truly wonderful curling shot for probably the goal of the season.
Ashmore had to be alert to a couple of shots and made two very fine saves before a fifth goal wrapped up the points. It came as Powell struck the bar from a central position but had the presence of mind to follow up and head the ball home as it came back off the woodwork.
Substitutes Myles Weston and Norman Wabo almost combined for a sixth and even when Gateshead pressed in the final moments, Fleet bodies flew in to block their path.
Fleet players acknowledged the delirious travelling fans for a monumental effort off the pitch. They were rewarded with a monumental effort on it.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Bush, Clark, Winfield, Rance, Drury, Coulson, Powell (Wabo 86), Whitely (Weston 63), Kedwell. Subs: Connors, McCoy, Miles
GFC: Montgomery, Vassell, Barrow, Kerr, York (Burrow 75), Peniket (Langstaff 81), Johnson, Preston, McLaughlin, Penn, Mellish. Subs: Hanford, Byrne, Greenwood