Bowman pen 8, 90
Rodman pen 86
AN extraordinary climax saw United turn a win into a defeat and then back into a draw.
Ryan Bowman opened the scoring with a penalty on eight minutes and the score remained 1-0 until Alex Rodman equalised with a Gateshead spot-kick four minutes from time.
The Tynesiders then looked to have grabbed an unbelievable late win through a Rob Ramshaw header, but the Gulls showed tremendous character to immediately pull themselves level with a poacher’s effort by Bowman.
United manager Chris Hargreaves stuck with the same starting line-up from last weekend’s 3-3 draw with Forest Green Rovers but the new faces were plentiful on the bench.
Midfielder James McQuilkin was handed a substitute spot, less than 24 hours after signing non-contract terms with the club, and Elliot Benyon made his long-awaited return from injury to earn his place among the replacements.
Gateshead boss Gary Mills made two changes from the side beaten 1-0 at Chester seven days ago, with Albanian defender Valentin Gjokaj and Tom Heardman the players coming in. Ramshaw and James Curtis were the duo to miss out.
After some enthralling encounters at the Launa Windows Stadium this season, it was surprising to see such a slow start to proceedings but all that soon changed.
The opening goal stemmed from a tremendous slide-rule pass by captain Luke Young and Bowman first showed fine strength to hold off Gjokaj before jinking inside the Albanian.
The response was to haul United’s number nine to the ground for a blatant penalty and Bowman quickly got to his feet, dinking a cheeky spot-kick past goalkeeper Adam Bartlett to make some amends for his missed penalty away at Gateshead on the opening day of the season.
The bigger question, however, was how referee Craig Hicks did not punish Gjokaj for the foul, which clearly denied a goal-scoring opportunity and, therefore, should have been a red card, or a booking at the very least.
Gateshead looked to settle with a period of controlled passing but there was no real penetration in their play, and Gjokaj looked rattled by his early indiscretion.
Despite going ahead, United’s attacking work lacked the normal punch and a flat opening quarter to the game was hardly helped by both teams conceding niggly fouls.
The slow tempo continued on a bright day at TQ1 and the Gulls were thankful to an industrious performance in midfield from Young and Courtney Richards to deny the Tynesiders room to play their fluid game.
Louis Briscoe attempted to add some fizz to the Yellow attack with a surging run through the middle and then fed the ball wide to Toby Ajala, but the return pass into the centre was behind the darting run from Bowman.
A rash challenge from Young then presented Gateshead with a free-kick opportunity 20 yards from goal and a searing low drive from Matty Pattison was brilliantly fielded by Martin Rice diving to his left.
A top save was made even better by the Yellow custodian also blocking the rebound, although the Gateshead forward had already been flagged for offside.
Moments later, Richards conceded a foul in exactly the same position but Rodman ended a dour first period with a poor effort floated into the Family Stand.
A brighter start to the second-half saw Young thread a pass for Briscoe, who shot narrowly wide and Mills quickly responded by introducing Michael Rankine for Tom Heardman.
The new man had barely touched the grass before Bowman conjured space for himself with an exquisite first touch but the eventual shot flashed inches past the post.
Gateshead had their best chance from the very next attack and it all stemmed from a sublime turn by Rodman, opening room for Pattison to curl a first-time shot against the far post for a big Yellow escape.
The game had suddenly become a far more adventurous affair and Ajala was next to have a pop, cutting inside from the left for a low shot well held by Bartlett.
United next won a free-kick on the right flank and a clever low pass from Young only just evaded the run of Bowman, as both sides desperately sought the vital next goal.
Hargreaves turned to his bench on the hour, removing Courtney Cameron for McQuilkin and Gateshead also made a change, with Jon Shaw replacing Danny Wright in attack.
Ramshaw came on for John Oster in the Tynesider’s final change, as the game entered 15 final minutes of tension.
United had changed their shape to pack the midfield and it placed huge emphasis on Bowman to put in a big shift as the central striker, a task he accepted with admirable enthusiasm.
It had slowly become a rearguard action and massive credit to a colossal defensive display from Aaron Downes and Krystian Pearce, although they could only thank Lady Luck when a drilled shot from Pattison cannoned back off the post on 83 minutes.
Rodman was next to have a go from distance and Rice did well to parry a swerving shot to safety, but the visitors won a penalty moments later, when Downes tripped Craig Baxter for a clear spot-kick.
Rodman was given the responsibility and he took it with glee, slotting a confident penalty to the right of a sprawling Rice.
Gateshead now looked the side more capable of winning and when the Gulls lost their man from an inswinging free-kick, Ramshaw glanced a deft header past the stranded Rice.
Five minutes of injury-time gave United hope and a skidding shot from distance by Young posed Bartlett a question he could not answer, spilling the ball to a grateful Bowman to poke home a dramatic equaliser.
Benyon and Duane Ofori-Acheampong were immediately thrown on for Richards and Briscoe in the race for an unbelievable turnaround, but no more goals, and probably the fair result.
In one last ironic twist, Gjokaj was dismissed for a second booking in the dying seconds, 85 minutes after he should have seen red and Young had a pop from 35 yards. Bartlett only just managed to beat the ball clear and an incredible game was finally over.
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 29 Durrell Berry, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Thomas Cruise; 11 Courtney Cameron (22 James McQuilkin 65), 8 Luke Young (capt), 16 Courtney Richards (17 Elliot Benyon 90), 10 Toby Ajala; 7 Louis Briscoe (24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong 90), 9 Ryan Bowman. Substitutes (not used): 23 Jordan Seabright (GK), 30 Oneil Odofin.
Booked: Young 37, Richards 42, Ajala 90
Gateshead (4-4-2): 1 Adam Bartlett; 16 Craig Baxter, 6 Ben Clark (capt), 26 Valentin Gjokaj, 21 Nick Anderton; 7 John Oster (12 Rob Ramshaw 73), 8 Phil Turnbull, 25 Matty Pattison, 22 Tom Heardman (19 Michael Rankine 51); 23 Alex Rodman, 29 Danny Wright (9 Jon Shaw 66). Booked: Gjokaj 76
Sent-off: Gjokaj 90
Substitutes (not used): 10 Lewis Guy, 15 Tom Allan.
Referee: Craig Hicks
Attendance: 1,947 (50 away)