Salford City return to Vanarama National League action on Saturday when Gateshead visit The Peninsula Stadium.
A brilliant start to 2019 has earned The Ammies six points from six against Wrexham and Leyton Orient to put us firmly back in the race for the title, and we are just two points behind leaders Orient.
However visitors Gateshead have promotion ambitions of their own and are one point behind Harrogate Town who occupy the final play-off position.
Gateshead faced a lot of uncertainty coming into the 2018-19 season. Despite reaching the FA Trophy semi-final last year, they finished a lowly 17th in The National League with investors Richard and Julie Bennett stating their intention to sell the club in April. That left The Heed with a reduced budget heading into the season, but after one collapsed takeover during the summer break the club was eventually taken over by Dr. Ranjan Varghese a week before the season commenced.
With renewed optimism around The International Stadium, The Heed made a good start to the season and they have maintained that during the course so far, also reaching the Emirates FA Cup First Round where they were defeated 2-1 away at Rochdale.
However last week came the shock announcement that manager Steve Watson, who took charge in October 2017 after Neil Aspin left for Port Vale, had resigned to fill the vacant managerial position at National League North side York City. Former club captain Ben Clark was quickly appointed as Watson’s successor, and his era begins on Saturday.
Watson’s resignation may have come at a slightly fortunate time with Gateshead not scheduled to play a game last weekend after they were eliminated from the Buildbase FA Trophy by us in December. Watson didn’t leave the club on a ‘high’ though, as it were, with three consecutive defeats. It’s the first time this season that they have lost three on the spin in the league, and the last time it happened was at the end of last season when they ended with four defeats.
They have a mixed record on the road this season, but haven’t won in three games away at the current top seven. In all of the games against the top seven they have only won one; against Salford at home in August.
One to watch – Scott Boden
Following the departure of Luke Armstrong, re-called by Middlesbrough to go on loan to Accrington Stanley, 29-year-old Boden now carries the main goal threat for Gateshead with his nine strikes this season.
The former Wrexham striker has scored goals at this level with FC Halifax Town (10 in 2014-15) and Macclesfield Town (18 in 2013-14) so has good experience in non-league’s top flight, and for Gateshead has averaged one goal every 3-4 games.
Both sides have a win apiece in the last two games this season. The Heed were the first side to take three points off The Ammies in The National League back in August when Armstrong scored twice in Gateshead’s comeback 2-1 win.
However we were victorious when The Heed last visited The Peninsula Stadium, goals from Mani Dieseruvwe and Devante Rodney (x2) giving us a 3-1 win. Again Armstrong was the scorer for Gateshead; he has scored all three of their goals against us.