PREVIEW: Gateshead v Luton Town

The threat of relegation is still looming firmly over Gateshead, writes Mike Simmonds.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 5th April 2013, 8:15 am

With just five games left to play, the Heed find themselves only a point above the drop zone, and in real danger of falling out of the Blue Square Bet Premier this season.

Things had looked so more promising at the start of the campaign when an opening day draw at Kenilworth Road was followed by four wins from the next eight games.

A run of nine matches without a win though saw manager Ian Bogie pay the price as he was sacked in December with Anth Smith taking over.

Gateshead were still looking good for mid-table obscurity, but January couldn’t have gone any worse for the side with six straight defeats, including an FA Trophy exit too.

That poor run was finally ended in stunning fashion with a 4-0 win at Macclesfield, which was the catalyst for victories at home over title-chasing Kidderminster and Hyde but the inconsistency that has dogged their season returned again.

Since March 9, they have won one, drawn four and lost three, while with the likes of Hyde and Nuneaton drastically improving, it has dragged the Heed ever closer to the bottom four.

Gateshead haven’t been helped by the continued postponements of home games in the wet weather as due to chronic drainage problems, they haven’t been able to use their International Stadium since New Years Day.

Their clash with Luton is being staged at Carlisle’s Brunton Park ground, while they have also played at Hartlepool United, York City, Blyth Spartans, Boston United, with their final match against Ebbsfleet being hosted by Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.

Off the pitch, Heed haven’t been able to strengthen as they would have hoped, signing Middlesbrough forward Jake Fowler on loan recently, although they did also pick up the pacey Yemi Odubade in January too along with midfielder Peter Bore.

Meanwhile the club have allowed defender Chris Bush to join Hereford on loan.

Team news: For Luton, Alex Lawless is fit again but could miss out through illness, while Jake Howells and Simon Ainge are both nursing knocks.

Steve McNulty is hopeful of being fit after he was substituted against Kidderminster on Saturday, leaving just Danny Spiller and Garry Richards as long-term injuries.

Heed are without injured trio Carl Magnay, James Marwood and captain Ben Clark after they were injured in the 4-0 defeat at Mansfield.

Strikers James Brown, Ryan Donaldson and Liam Henderson all sustained knocks and face a race to be fit to face Luton.

Top BSBP scorer: Heed – Josh Gillies (12) Hatters – Andre Gray (12).

Man in the middle: Darren Handley, official has shown 78 yellows and five reds in 22 games this season.

Reffed Luton’s 2-1 win at Hyde and has taken Gateshead twice, a 4-1 home win over Mansfield, plus a 1-1 draw at Hyde.

Was also in charge of Luton’s 3-0 defeat at Forest Green Rovers last season

In charge: Anth Smith – former defender who played for Sunderland, Hartlepool and Northampton Town before his career was cut short by injury at just 24.

Named managed of Northern League side Chester-le-Street Town in September 2011, but left the club in June 2012 to join Gateshead.

Was named as caretaker of Heed when Ian Bogie was dismissed in December and then appointed on a permanent basis until the end of the season.

View from the opposition: Boss Anth Smith: “It is difficult to say whether we need two or three more wins but what I do know is that it is in our own hands.

“The Mansfield game was our fifth in 10 days which is a crazy schedule.

“We were physically and mentally tired and we’ve now got the luxury of four days without a game.

“That will allow us to get on the training ground and address one or two problems which we haven’t been able to due to all the games.

“We don’t want it to go to the final day against Ebbsfleet at Middlesbrough - we have to be safe before then.”

One to watch: Josh Gillies - 22-year-old midfielder who has been one of the shining lights for Gateshead this season, netting 12 times in 40 matches including three in his last seven.

Friendly faces: Striker Jon Shaw is well known to the Gateshead faithful, being their talisman for the previous two season before joining Luton in the summer.

Netted 45 goals in just 80 league games for the club, including 35 in all competitions last campaign.

Meanwhile Heed’s Liam Hatch joined Luton on loan from Peterborough in the 2009-10 season, making 22 league appearances and scoring four times.

The 31-year-old joined Heed permanently in the summer and has made 24 league appearances, scoring five times, including in the season opener at Kenilworth Road.

After netting four in his opening eight games, Hatch has managed just once since, and has been in the referees notebook more often than not, with eight cautions and a red.

We’ve got form: Hatters haven’t enjoyed the best of times at Gateshead recently, as they drew 0-0 and lost 1-0 on their last two visits north.

They have won on both other occasions though, a 1-0 Conference triumph, plus a 4-0 hammering in the FA Cup when Gateshead were playing as South Shields in 1921 thanks to goals from Harry Higginbotham, George Butcher (2) and Ernie Simms.

With the game played at Carlisle though, Luton’s last visit there was a 2-1 defeat in League One back in March 2008 when David Bell was on target

Last time out: Hatters were held to a goalless draw in awful conditions at Gateshead in a midweek match last season.

Hatters: Mark Tyler, George Pilkington, Jake Howells, Curtis Osano, Janos Kovacs, Keith Keane, Alex Lawless, Robbie Willmott (Greg Taylor 56), Stuart Fleetwood, Andre Gray, Adam Watkins (Godfrey Poky 56, Craig McAllister 71).

Subs not used: Shane Blackett, Dan Walker.

Attendance: 703.

For all the latest Luton Town FC news, reports, stats, player profiles, live match updates, MOM poll, prediction table and a complete fixture list, visit our Hatters Microsite.