Maddison 33, 74
A GRIM start to the new season saw United comprehensively beaten at Gateshead to round off the longest trip of the campaign in the worst possible fashion.
The Tynesiders cruised to a 3-1 success after an early goal from Lewis Guy and two further efforts from the outstanding Marcus Maddison had the Gulls slinking sadly back on the bus for a miserable journey home.
Louis Briscoe did grab a late consolation for United and one other positive note is the fact there are still 45 more games to play in the Vanarama Conference but things will have to improve quickly, starting with the visit of Welling United to Plainmoor on Tuesday night.
United’s first team selection of the campaign was pretty much as expected from manager Chris Hargreaves, with Krystian Pearce the only likely starter missing through injury. Angus MacDonald took his place at the heart of the Yellow defence.
The most familiar name in the Gateshead line-up had to be former Wales international John Oster, a top class creative midfielder in the Premier League and Championship for many years. Starting up front for the Heed was Jon Shaw, previously a summer target for the Gulls.
A lively start from Ryan Bowman saw the debutant striker create room for Elliot Benyon in the left channel, but his low pass to the onrushing Briscoe just missed its target and the home side were able to clear.
Gateshead responded with a decent spell of possession at the International Stadium but a good shape from the Gulls repelled any hope of the Heed creating a clear look at the away goal occupied by Martin Rice.
The Tynesiders did find a momentary hole in the United defence on 12 minutes but a combination of Aaron Downes and Angus MacDonald was enough to thwart the lurking Shaw. Courtney Cameron immediately relieved the pressure with a swift break and pass to Bowman, who slid the ball inches wide of the post.
A real chance for the Gulls, particularly with the general pattern of the game flowing in favour of the home team, and a deep corner found Guy at the back-post to force home the opening goal of the afternoon.
Gateshead were now in rampant mood and Shaw found space in behind for a clear run on goal, but United were left grateful to the former Luton striker for snatching at the effort, as the ball rose high over the
A terrific showing from the Yellow Army saw well over 150 travelling fans make the longest trip of the season on the opening day and Downes tried to lift their mood with a header from a Luke Young corner, but the attempt flashed wide.
The Tynesiders were soon back on the attack, as a whipped free-kick forced Rice into a save that fell loose for Shaw, who should have done a lot better with a glorious chance to double the home lead.
United got what they deserved moments later, as the outstanding Maddison sauntered through the Yellow defence and rifled a fine low finish inside the far post. A very disappointing start to life in the Vanarama Conference and the pressure was on for a swift response.
From nowhere, United were given a lifeline by skipping past Ryan Wilson and an outstretched leg from the defender was enough to convince referee Ben Toner to award a much-needed penalty.
Bowman immediately grabbed the responsibility but the Yellows were denied a vital goal back just before half-time by home ‘keeper Adam Bartlett saving brilliantly low down to his left.
Hargreaves resisted the temptation to make any changes at the break but the pattern of Gateshead controlling proceedings soon had United struggling to contain a home team brimming with confidence.
The hard work of Bowman eventually had the Gulls causing problems at the other end, as the former York man forced an opening for Briscoe, who was denied by another super save from Bartlett. The subsequent corner was headed wide by MacDonald.
Bowman then had a shot deflected over and there were definite signs of United gradually cranking up the pressure on their hosts. Hargreaves sought to build on the improvement by introducing Toby Ajala and Duane Ofori-Acheampong for Benyon and Cameron.
The new boys were immediately involved in the game, conjuring some space for Ajala to play a pass just beyond Bowman. Gateshead boss Gary Mills then turned to his replacements for the fresh legs of Jamie Chandler and JJ O’Donnell coming on for Guy and Oster.
A sublime display of skill from Ajala briefly had the Yellow Army cooing with appreciation but the two-goal deficit remained intact, prompting a final United change with Ben Harding trudging off to give Courtney Richards his debut.
Sadly, the new man had barely been on the pitch 30 seconds when the Tynesiders opened up a 3-0 lead with a special strike from distance by the best player on show. A fabulous shot by Maddison gave Rice no chance and the Gulls were soundly beaten.
Maddison was just having one of those days, bamboozling United yet again with a weaving run and when the ball fell to substitute Chandler only a desperate lunge from MacDonald saw the final shot deflected wide.
There was, mercifully, enough time for Briscoe, United’s best performer on the day, to slam a well-taken consolation past Bartlett. Something to cheer, but not much.
Gateshead (4-4-2): 1 Adam Bartlett; 16 Craig Baxter, 5 James Curtis, 6 Ben Clark, 3 Ryan Wilson; 11 Marcus Maddison, 7 John Oster (4 Jamie Chandler 70), 8 Phil Turnbull, 23 Alex Rodman; 9 Jon Shaw (14 James Brown 83), 10 Lewis Guy (18 JJ O’Donnell 70). Substitutes (not used): 2 Andrai Jones, 15 Tom Allan.
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 21 Angus MacDonald, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Thomas Cruise; 7 Louis Briscoe, 6 Ben Harding (16 Courtney Richards 73), 8 Luke Young (capt), 11 Courtney Cameron (10 Toby Ajala 66); 9 Ryan Bowman, 17 Elliot Benyon (24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong 66). Substitutes (not used): 23 Jordan Seabright (GK), 25 Levi Ives.
Booked: Downes 65
Referee: Ben Toner
Attendance: 1,765 (161 away).