December 19, 2014
GATESHEAD manager Gary Mills believes that Friday’s televised fixture at Bristol Rovers will usher in the most testing period of his time with the club so far.
Following their visit to the third-placed Pirates, the Tynesiders welcome fellow Vanarama Conference play-off hopefuls FC Halifax Town and Woking to the International Stadium, with a trip to struggling AFC Telford United sandwiched in between.
And there is also the small matter of a Third Round FA Cup tie at top-flight West Bromwich Albion on the horizon – with a tricky FA Trophy clash at Grimsby Town to come the following Saturday.
It all equates to a manic three-week period for Mills and his men – but the boss is determined to see the Heed rise to the challenge.
He said: “I’m looking forward to going to Bristol Rovers – it’ll be under the floodlights, and on TV – so it’s a big game for us.
“It’s the start of a vital period for us – there’s no doubt about that.
“We’ve some big games in the league campaign, and two cup games as well – so it’s a big test for the football club as a whole.
“I’d love to finish top of the league, but being completely honest, that’s going to be a big challenge for us now.
“But we have to make sure we finish between second and fifth, and it doesn’t matter where – just being in there is the main thing.
“The next few games will – mentally – either set us up to do that, or they won’t.
“We’ve Bristol Rovers, Halifax, and Woking – who are all up there with us – as well as Telford – who are fighting for their lives.
“As a group, we’ll be spending a lot of time together.
“Possibly the families won’t be too happy – we’re going to be away a lot, and staying in hotels on occasion.
“But, it’s about being focused on what this is all about – and it is possibly the toughest test for me personally since I’ve been at the football club.”
After a stuttering start, Bristol Rovers have found their feet in the Conference after relegation from the Football League in May.
The Pirates are unbeaten in the league since mid-October, and victory for Darrell Clarke’s side tomorrow will see them close to within six points of leaders Barnet.
But Rovers approach tomorrow night’s fixture on the back of a humbling in the FA Trophy a week ago – with Conference South outfit Bath City claiming a 2-0 win at the Memorial Stadium.
And after travelling down to Bristol a day in advance of the fixture, Mills hopes his side will be adequately prepared as they look to secure an important three points.
He said: “A win would certainly help us on the way to achieving our aims – and we’re capable of that.
“But whatever happens, it isn’t the be-all and end-all – people scoffed when we had three draws at this stage last season, but they were the most important three draws we’ve ever had.
“I’m happy but frustrated with the season so far – I know our performance levels warrant a few more points than we’ve got.
“Having said that, there’s a reason for it – and going into the New Year we have to make sure that we cut out the silly mistakes, and take more of the numerous chances that we create.”
Gateshead will again be without goalkeeper Alex Baird (ankle) and forward Carl Finnigan (knee) at the Memorial Stadium tomorrow night.
However, Mills’ squad has been given a clean bill of health otherwise, with midfielder Matty Pattison back in contention after missing last Saturday’s FA Trophy victory against Halesowen Town.
(This article is adapted from the Gateshead FC Official Site with thanks.)