POINTS shared and a thrilling climax to a night that for a long time like becoming a frustrating chapter in United’s campaign.
Gateshead broke the deadlock with a goal from Jordan Preston on 28 minutes and reached the brink of stoppage time with their lead intact, but captain Sean McGinty intervened with a last-gasp leveller.
United boss Gary Owers made one enforced change from the side beaten at Tranmere, replacing the injured Michee Efete with Axel Andrésson, providing the Icelandic defender on loan from Reading with his full debut. Callum Evans took up the spare place on the bench.
Gateshead, managed by former Newcastle, Aston Villa and Everton defender Steve Watson, made the long journey to Plainmoor on the back of a rare weekend’s rest after their scheduled home clash with Woking had been postponed.
Before the game got under way, players from both sides and the Yellow Army rose in unison to pay tribute to United legend Ian Twitchin, who sadly left us last week. Warm applause rang around TQ1 for a fantastic servant of the club and all with his family and close friends in attendance.
Once the whistle blew, the first moment of real danger arrived when Jazzi Barnum-Bobb was penalised for a trip by the corner flag and a fizzing low delivery from Luke Hannant was sliced clear by Andresson at the near post.
United responded with a corner at the other end and a flick-on from McGinty found Ruairi Keating at the far post, but his close-range shot on the swivel was bravely charged down by Gateshead ‘keeper Dan Hanford.
The Gulls continued to look the more threatening outfit, moving the ball around nicely on the slick surface and eventually creating room for a Luke Young shot from 20 yards that was well fielded by Hanford diving low to his right.
United were knocking on the door and it very nearly opened on 22 minutes, as another penetrating set-piece from Young was met by a towering Alex Davey header that skimmed the top of the bar on its way to the handful of hardy Gateshead fans behind the goal, and massive credit to them for making the trip.
From nowhere, the visitors were in front and the architect Danny Johnson skipping into the left channel and reversing a deflected low cross into the path of Preston, who kept his composure in steering a low half-volley into the bottom corner, giving Vincent Dorel in the United no chance.
The game swiftly returned to the same pattern of United controlling territory, but the big difference was the visitors now had a lead to protect. Young from a set-piece seemed the likeliest route back into the game and Hanford could only fist clear another whipped delivery from the left flank.
The half almost ended in disaster, as Johnson pounced on a loose backpass and attempted a clever dink that Dorel did well to palm wide at full stretch. United needed to rediscover some intensity at the break and that very nearly happened with a Josh McQuoid cross to the near post.
Hanford looked awkward in palming it away for a corner that swung over beautifully for the run of Andrésson, who planted his header narrowly over from a good position.
Gateshead, however, were a side growing in confidence and the impressive Preston was unlucky with a scorching low drive past the post. Owers had seen enough and introduced Guy Gnabouyou for Keating in an attempt to galvanise the troops.
For Gateshead, Paddy McLaughlin replaced Hannant on the hour and it was all helping to disrupt any rhythm or flow in United’s game. The goal had changed the evening and the onus was very much on the Gulls to find some answers.
United opted to bring fresh faces in the search for an equaliser, bringing on Jon-Paul Pittman and Jennison Myrie-Williams for McQuoid and Andrésson. The harsh reality, however, was the visitors looking more dangerous, twice going close with headers in the swirling rain.
Just when it seemed there would be no breakthrough, a lovely flighted corner from Young caught out Hanford and McGinty forced the ball over the line to the delight of the Yellow Army. It was a scrappy goal but oh so valuable.
The drama was simply awesome in the dying seconds, as Myrie-Williams drove past his man and lashed over a low cross met perfectly on the volley by Gnabouyou, but fair play to Hanford producing a game-saving block with his legs.
Breathless to the end and a point is better than none.
United (3-4-1-2): 30 Vincent Dorel; 26 Axel Andrésson (9 Jon-Paul Pittman), 21 Alex Davey, 5 Sean McGinty (capt); 16 Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, 8 Luke Young, 4 Damon Lathrope, 3 Liam Davis; 13 Josh McQuoid (27 Jennison Myrie-Williams 79); 10 Ruairi Keating (22 Guy Gnabouyou 55), 19 Jamie Reid Substitutes (not used): 1 Ryan Clarke (GK), 12 Callum Evans.
Booked: Davey 55, Myrie-Williams 84
Gateshead (4-5-1): 21 Dan Hanford; 2 Theo Vassell, 4 Fraser Kerr, 5 Neil Byrne (capt), 12 Robbie Tinkler; 9 Danny Johnson, 16 Russell Penn, 11 Jordan Preston (24 Callum Williams 73), 19 Luke Hannant (13 Paddy McLaughlin 60), 8 Richard Peniket (14 JJ O’Donnell 86); 10 Jordan Burrow. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Montgomery (GK), 7 Wes York.
Booked: Penn 35, Tinkler 39, Preston 58
Referee: Adrian Quelch
Attendance: 1,405 (15 away).