GATESHEAD legend Paul Thompson is backing the Tynesiders to return to the Football League by winning Sunday’s Skrill Conference play-off final against Cambridge United at Wembley.
Gateshead’s passing style of football has impressed onlookers this season since Gary Mills took charge in September, and Thompson, who played 439 games and scored 130 goals in four spells at the club after leaving Hartlepool United, believes that playing at Wembley will suit the team.
“We’ve got two wingers who sometimes struggle on tight pitches, but they will relish the wide space at Wembley,” he added.
“There’ll be more room in midfield for the likes of Phil Turnbull, and the better the surface, the better we play.
“Wembley will be like an absolute carpet and we’ll never get a better chance to get promoted.
“Mills’ philosophy is to dominate teams, but, to be fair, we’ve been playing like that since Ian Bogie took over. Mills has come in and taken things on to a different level.
“You have got to be the team with momentum when it comes to play-offs. Cambridge have had a great season but they’ve slipped up a bit in the last few weeks.
“The first goal is always important. If we score that, I think we’ll go on and win it.”
South Tynesider Turnbull, a veteran of more than 300 Heed games, can be the key man, insists Thompson.
Thompson said: “Philly is technically the best player I’ve seen, but now he has got the confidence to go with it.
“It’s not just him. The team’s playing out from the back and they trust each other. They are comfortable on the ball and don’t take the easy option.
“Phil has been at Gateshead since I was there, but he’s starting to boss games now. He makes things happen and sets the tempo and I think he will be a huge player at Wembley.”
Gateshead, whose squad includes former Sunderland men John Oster, Ryan Noble and Jamie Chandler, will be backed by more than 7,000 fans on Sunday.
Thompson believes it is just reward for chairman and benefactor Graham Wood, a former Sunderland director.
“Right the way back 20 years ago when I first joined, the aim was to get into the Football League, but the Conference is probably the hardest league to get out of,” he said.
“When the chairman came in, he said he wanted promotion and he’s backed every manager he had.
“To see them going to Wembley is fantastic.
“People have finally cottoned on to Gateshead. It’s always been a bit of a joke with watching games at our stadium, but the last month or so it’s really taken off.
“I went down to the stadium last week to get some tickets and couldn’t believe the amount of people there. Never in my life did I think I’d see people queuing up for merchandise and stuff at Gateshead Stadium on a Saturday morning when there was no game.
“For the future of the club, Sunday actually doesn’t really matter. We’re in great shape and have got the recognition, and the future is looking fantastic either way.”
Tickets remain on sale until 7pm at the Gateshead Stadium box office tonight and tomorrow (10am-4pm).
The team coach left for Northamptonshire yesterday and move on to their hotel base in St Albans today to prepare for the club’s first visit to Wembley.