Alfreton Town reached the FA Cup First Round Proper for the eighth time in their history when they triumphed on Tyneside in Wednesday night’s epic replay against Gateshead.
It was also the Reds’ first win at the International Stadium since a 2-0 Midland League encounter against a former incarnation of Gateshead on 28th April 1973.
The replay had only been necessary because of former Alfreton favourite Sam Jones’ late brace at the Impact Arena on Saturday, so it was somewhat ironic that the same player should concede the penalty that ultimately produced the winning goal. It came in extra-time and the same player headed against the upright with the last action of the tie.
Nicky Law was forced to make one change from Saturday’s original tie, Paul Clayton replaced by Craig Westcarr, with the latter bagging two priceless goals to aid Alfreton’s cause.
The Reds were dealt an early blow when the influential Adam Smith was forced to withdraw after just 13 minutes, but not before he had supplied the cross that had seen Westcarr turn Heed skipper Liam Hogan to plant the ball firmly past keeper Dan Hanford to put the visitors ahead in the tenth minute.
Adam Priestley fluffed a gilt-edged chance when played through by a Gateshead defender on 28 minutes, but may have mistakenly thought he was off-side, and eight minutes later the tie was once again all square with Andy Monkhouse slicing Jamal Fyfield’s cross past his own keeper.
Two minutes earlier Reece Styche had replaced the injured Paddy McLaughlin for the home side, and for the remainder of the first half there was the somewhat unusual sight of two Gibraltarian strikers on the same pitch before Priestley was withdrawn at half-time.
Gateshead struck again in the 40th minute, taking the lead through Mitch Brundle’s well-struck free-kick that flew into the net from the edge of the area, the half ending with Tom Allan glancing a back post header wide from a Paul Marshall cross.
Both Fyfield and Brundle went perilously close for Gateshead after the break, but Allan’s header from another Marshall cross reminded them that there was a huge incentive at stake.
Priestley’s replacement Sam Smith somehow contrived to miss a free header from six yards in receipt of Westcarr’s 63rd minute cross, but the striker atoned six minutes later by heading the equaliser past Hanford from a similar position, this time from Marshall’s delivery.
A Brundle free-kick that landed on top of the Alfreton net and a Brad McGowan header from a Westcarr corner that was blocked in a crowded box could not prevent extra-time from looming.
With 99 minutes on the clock Jones handled Terry Kennedy’s cross after a mesmerising run down the right by the Reds’ defender and Westcarr planted the spot-kick high into the net and Alfreton were at last in sight of victory.
A superb save by Fabian Spiess prevented a 112th minute leveller by Hogan, Jones again failed to emulate his previous performance by hooking over from six yards as Adam Wrightson drilled in a 117th minute cross, then right at the end a penalty shoot-out was only prevented by the woodwork to add to Jones’ and Gateshead’s despair.
The Reds can now look forward to renewing acquaintances at home to Newport County on 5th November, having previously met the League Two outfit during Conference Premier encounters.
GATESHEAD: Hanford; M.Smith, Hogan, Fyfield, York, Brundle, D.Johnson (Hannant 66), S.Jones, D.Jones (Wrightson 100), Mafuta, McLaughlin (Styche 34). Subs not used: Robson, Taylor, S.Johnson.
ALFRETON: Spiess; Mantack, McGowan, Kennedy, Wilson, Nyoni, Monkhouse, Marshall, A.Smith (Allan 13), Westcarr, Priestley (S.Smith HT). Subs not used: Heaton.
Referee: Martin Coy (Durham).