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Bath City (H)
Sat Mar 2
15:00

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Bath City (H)
Sat Mar 2 15:00
The Vanarama National League South
10th
53pts

Hazel Lifeline

Slough Town

Slough Town

2
Lee (24), Hazel (53)
Gateshead

Gateshead

1
Rowe (1-1)
League Attendance: 705 Andy Sayer
Steve Wicks is the Slough Borough Council leisure development officer, he is also the match announcer at Slough Town and it would seem Mr Wicks possesses a rather wicked sense of humour.

He began this most crucial night for the club by playing Europe's " The Final Countdown" and following that over the tannoy was "Nothing's going to stop us now" by Starship; yeah, but from going where?

Until Monday evening it had seemed the Diadora League was the answer to that puzzler but a performance of real passion, courage and no small amount of flair took care of Gateshead and re-lit the flames of desire and belief that it seemed had gone out for Slough Town in recent weeks.

Les Briley has been adamant that his side have been playing as well as at any stage of the season in the last month without the luck or the goals to show for it.

Certainly with a little more composure in front of goal they would have soundly beaten Southport on Saturday and on Monday the 2-1 margin of victory flattered visiting Gateshead who rarely threatened.

A 53rd minute side foot from two yards by Ian Hazel could prove to be the most precious strike of this tortuous season though Hazel would be the first to applaud the quite breathtaking overhead kick from Andy Sayer that presented him with the chance. Fitting really that Sayer and Hazel should combine to strike the significant blow. Both were magnificent on a night when no-one in gold was less than a hero as Slough gave themselves a real chance of avoiding the Conference trap door.

Now with still several crucial fixtures to be played their destiny is back in their hands. If they beat Halifax at the Shay Ground on Saturday, then they should be safe, barring a bizarre series of results. A draw might even be enough, but to go with the intentions of just that would be the riskiest of ploys.

Briley will be the last man to get carried away at Monday's result, he has had too many setbacks this season alone to even contemplate that the job might be done, but he allowed himself a brief moment to reflect on how well the players have responded to his desperate call for passion and commitment.

"Yeah, they have given it everything, 120 percent, but while that's great now, if they had done it consistently earlier in the season we would not have been in this mess, so they have got to go out and do it once more now at Halifax - we have only completed half of the job."

Crucially however the Gateshead win will have restored the sagging confidence in one or two and given an immeasurable surge of belief to 19 year old Brett Smith who had the unenviable task of replacing the injured Mark Fiore but did the job so well that his manager could barely contain his delight. "How good is the kid going to be? I can only say that we didn't miss Mark at all."

Fiore had been ever present in the league this term and as the side's most likely source of craft and invention his absence didn't bode well. But Smith took his chance and Slough didn't look back. From the start they hassled and harried, chased and challenged with manning and Hazel chief destroyers at the heart of the action and behind them a resolute back four made up for in determination and aggression what they lacked in guile.

The only two blots on Andy Sayer's copybook performance were similar missed chances when poor clearances by the Gateshead debutant goalkeeper Armstrong gave him the opportunity to lob. The first and better chance came in the second minute when with Armstrong some way out of his goal Sayer failed to get enough height on his chip and the retreating 'keeper was able to scratch a finger tip on the ball and divert it wide.

The second was five minutes from time and on this occasion Sayer rather panicked, clipping a volley wide when Armstrong cleared straight to him under pressure from Morrys Scott.

By that late stage of course Slough had their advantage and were showing no signs of letting it slip.

Occasionally the Conference's top scorer Paul Dobson and his fleet footed partner Alan Lamb would give the Slough rearguard cause for concern but rarely did their efforts result in problems for Trevor Bunting. Often defensive numbers rather than trusted tactics thwarted Gateshead with Manning in particular frenetically tigerish in his attempts to clear any danger aided by the belligerence of Hancock and the excellent timing of Brian Lee.

Lee it was who nudged Slough in front on 24 minutes with his first ever goal for the club. Untidy it might have been but who honestly cared, it came off his thigh but even if it had gone in off his backside it would have been worth celebrating because it ended a goal drought of some 350 minutes.

Hazel had delivered the cross low at the neat post and Lee and half a dozen others challenged poor Armstrong who was probably relieved that it was just the ball that was bundled over the line.

Steve Scott limped off and Neal Stanley took his place almost immediately setting up Smith, darting through the middle, but the youngster was unable to cope with the awkwardly bouncing cross.

You could not see Gateshead getting back on terms at this stage so of course they then did just that. Lee committed himself to a tackle on Dobson, lost him and when the low shot squirmed away from Bunting, Rowe forced it home. Typical.

This time however heads did not drop and Lee might have had a second but for the referee's assertion that Morrys Scott had fouled Armstrong.
Les Briley summoned up what was left of his fast fading voice to restore the belief in his men and Rebels emerged for the most important 45 minutes of the season in even more determined mood. it was all rather frantic but it frightened the hell out of Gateshead and all that Slough needed now you felt was the composure to finish the job.

Scott couldn't find the finish from Stanley's cross but then came the Smith corner the Sayer acrobatics and the Hazel touch, 2-1 and genuine jubilation on the terraces!

Trevor Bunting held on to a rising drive from Dobson and later watched the same player shoot across the face of goal but impressively Slough were not looking to hang on they were out to extend their lead and the towering Scott did his best to oblige. Off target with a header from Stanley's cross he was very much on target with a glancing effort from Brett Smith's corner but Watson was very much on the line and kicked clear. Manning continued to win headers that - in the words of Andy Gray - he had no right to - while Sayer's first touch and distribution took the pressure of his toiling teammates And he earned Slough another corner which Smith curled towards Scott but instead met the head of his marker Wrightson and smacked against the bottom of the post.

Hancock's missile of a throw fell to an unmarked Stanley but his fierce shot was too high and Manning's half volley was dragged wide. No matter they had done enough - now they must repeat the performance, though Mr Wicks and his musical tricks won't be there to inspire them.

Gateshead Lineup

Rebels

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