Despite storming into a two-goal lead against their Championship-level counterparts Sunderland, Gateshead could not make it two wins from two in their pre-season friendlies, ultimately succumbing to the Black Cats’ superiority in a 3-2 beating.
Quickfire efforts from Connor Pani and Adam Campbell inside the opening 25 minutes put Gateshead two goals to the good, but Luke O’Nienreduced the arrears prior to the half-time whistle before Niall Huggins and Michael Spellman completed the Sunderland turnaround.
The Tynesiders have the luxury of a full week’s worth of rest before player-coach Mike Williamson prepares for a reunion with his former club, where he netted a solitary goal in 169 appearances during their prolonged Premier League run between 2010 and 2016.
The 39-year-old led Gateshead to the National League North title in the 2021-22 season – earning the Manager of the Year award for his efforts – and consolidation in the fifth tier was achieved last term, as the Tynesiders placed 14th in the National League after having a point deducted for fielding an ineligible player.
That punishment did plunge Gateshead back into the relegation zone at the time, but Williamson turned their fortunes around with a stellar streak of Easter form, while they also made it all the way to the FA Trophy final before suffering Halifax Town-inflicted heartbreak.
Gateshead were not the only Tyneside team to make waves in the 2022-23 campaign, as Newcastle’s 20-year exile from the Champions League ended with a magnificent fourth-placed finish in the Premier League, arguably representing a period of overachievement for the Magpies.
While many will correctly point towards Newcastle’s controversial and lucrative ownership, Howe and co transformed the club into one of the Premier League’s most dogged defensive units, as well as taking the Magpies to Wembley for the EFL Cup final, where they fell short against Manchester Unitedl
Gateshead and Newcastle can therefore empathise when it comes to painful Wembley losses, and winning just one of their last five Premier League games extinguished Newcastle’s hopes of pipping Man United to a top-three finish in the Premier League, but they capitalised on Chelsea and Liverpool’s misfortunes to sneak into fourth spot and punch their ticket to the group stage.
Shipping just 33 goals marked the Premier League’s joint-best defensive record alongside Manchester City, and Howe’s side will quickly become reacquainted with their Premier League foes this summer; a trip to the United States awaits to face Aston Villa, Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion in the summer series.
Rangers, Fiorentina and Villarreal will also provide Newcastle with a trio of stern tests before they commence another season of hope and promise, but first, the Magpies will renew hostilities with near neighbours Gateshead 12 months on from thumping the Tynesiders 5-1 in a 2022 summer friendly.