GATESHEAD boss Gary Mills wants a “professional” performance from his side in tonight’s Skrill Conference Premier play-off semi-final first leg at Grimsby Town.
The Tynesiders are 180 minutes away from a first ever trip to Wembley for the final, with a return to the Football League 54 years after their controversial demotion in the club’s sights.
Gateshead go into the Blundell Park showdown in good spirits after beating second-top Cambridge United 3-1 on Saturday to finish third in the table – on an incredible run of 12 unbeaten matches.
Mills, who has transformed the club since taking over earlier in the season, said: “We’ve proved if we play how we can play and do our jobs, we can win football matches. With Wembley around the corner, as soon as you mention that, it becomes a little more special.
“Everybody’s desperate to get there, but you can’t be too desperate because you’ll end up falling flat on your face. We’ve got to go and do the job professionally and come back here on Sunday to play in front of a big crowd.”
Gateshead have veteran ex-Nottingham Forest striker Jack Lester fit after a groin problem, while on-loan midfielder JJ O’Donnell has recovered from a gashed shin.
However, an ankle injury keeps out forward James Brown.
The squad includes former Sunderland players Ben Clark, Ryan Noble, John Oster and Jamie Chandler.
Gateshead midfielder Phil Turnbull cannot wait for the double header, with the return on Tyneside on Sunday (4.30pm). He said: “These will be without doubt the biggest two games of my career so far.
“Players in our squad that have played at a higher level would probably say that as well.
“It’s about what it means to the club, from the chairman down. We’re expecting a tight tie, as Grimsby are a good side.
“They would have wanted to avoid us, though, as when you haven’t lost in 12 games, other teams know you must be decent.
“We’re taking real momentum into the play-offs, and we’re going into every game thinking we’re going to win.”
Grimsby manager Paul Hurst is well aware of Gateshead’s belief, saying: “They’ve been on a fantastic run. They’ll go into the game with confidence that they can keep their good run going but I think form goes out of the window in the play-offs.”