Gateshead 1 Fleetwood Town 1
JAMIE Vardy’s 14th goal of the season enabled Town to recover from a disappointing first half display to keep pace with Wrexham at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier.
A defensive mix-up gifted Gateshead the lead only for Fleetwood to rally after the break, though a winning goal and a sixth successive league win eluded them.
Suspension ruled striker Richard Brodie out against his home-town club and Jamie McGuire joined him as a spectator having received his fifth booking of the season against Stockport County the previous Saturday.
Peter Cavanagh came into the Town midfield for his first start of the season and manager Micky Mellon gave a full debut to Morecambe loan signing Ryan Charnock at the heart of defence after Steve McNulty failed to recover from an ankle injury
The league’s leading scorer, Jon Shaw, started for Gateshead having missed Town’s 3-1 victory at Highbury in September. Winger Chris Moore was injured in that game and made his first start since then as the Tyneside club took a 12th minute lead.
Craig Baxter’s through ball caused confusion in the Town defence. Keeper Scott Davies, raced out to the edge of his area but failed to clear, as did Nathan Pond, and the ball ran free for Martin Brittain to stroke home.
Gateshead hunted for a second as Town struggled to impose themselves, with top scorer Vardy impeded by a foot injury sustained against Stockport.
The irrepressible Vardy almost helped conjure up an equaliser, however, on 23 minutes, when his flick released Gareth Seddon only for keeper Jack Alnwick to deny him with a good save.
Two minutes later, Vardy latched on to an Alan Goodall pass but could only lob the ball into Alnwick’s hands.
Micky Cummins almost doubled Gateshead’s lead after 35 minutes. Following a build-up down the right, a cross from Brittain was deflected by Davies and the midfielder fired over from close range.
Two minutes later, another searching cross by Brittain was chested away for a corner by Shaun Beeley, who went close at the other end moments later. The full-back ran on to Seddon’s pass after 38 minutes but drove across goal after advancing into the box.
Andy Mangan’s shot from the edge of the area was comfortably saved by Alnwick and a disappointing half for Town ended with Seddon receiving his fifth booking of the season for a challenge on Chris Carruthers.
Town showed more urgency after the break and an opportunity came their way four minutes in, when Beeley did well down the right and the ball was deflected into the path of Mangan, who was unable to repeat his spectacular strike against Stockport.
Cavanagh, who was booked for a foul on Kris Gate, found a gap to release Seddon inside the area but again the final touch was lacking.
James Marwood, son of Manchester City executive and former Arsenal winger Brian, was introduced on the hour and brought the crowd to their feet with a strong run from his own half only for his shot to be deflected wide.
Moore switched to the right to accommodate Marwood and remained dangerous as did Shaw. These were anxious times as Town battled to stay in the game in front of a disappointing crowd of 768.
Having weathered the storm, Town struck back. Substitute Magno Vieira slipped the ball through to Vardy, who rounded the keeper and stroked the ball home after 72 minutes.
As the Town players celebrated with their ‘Silent Disco’ routine, Gateshead were questioning whether a flag should have been raised for offside.
Town had their tails up and a period of sustained attacking followed, with Vieira at the heart of the action.
A Jamie Milligan free-kick found the Brazilian, who forced a fine save from Alnwick from point-blank range. There were several further close shaves as Gateshead held on. The visitors’ anxiety to force the issue resulted in three further bookings, for Pond, Vardy and Mangan, who failed to retreat the required distance for a free-kick.
Town continued to match Wrexham, who shared in a goalless draw at Braintree, stride for stride and will go top tomorrow (at least for 24 hours) if they avoid defeat at home to Kettering.
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley, Goodall, Charnock, Cavanagh, Pond, Milligan, Till (Vieira 61), Mangan, Seddon, Vardy; not used: St Louis-Hamilton, Wassmer, Clancy, Crowther.
Gateshead: Alnwick, Curtis, Clark, Baxter, Carruthers, Gate (Henderson 83), Brittain (Marwood 59), Turnbull, Cummins (Fisher 87), Shaw, Moore; not used: Deasy, Rents.
Ref: R Joyce; Att: 768