Ex-Newcastle United defender determined to end season on a high with Gateshead play-off success
Gateshead defender Alex Nicholson is determined to end his first season back in full-time football on a high.
The former Newcastle United and Wales under-19 international was released by SkyBet Championship club Preston North End in 2014 but went on to achieve success with the likes of Blyth Spartans and South Shields.
The 26-year-old was part of the Spartans side that reached the FA Cup third round just six months after his departure from North End and he also helped South Shields to their historic quadruple-winning season in 2017.
Nicholson returned to Spartans to help the Croft Park club reach the National League North play-offs in only their second season back in non-league’s second tier.
His form led to a return to the full-time game as he penned a one-year deal to join Gateshead last summer and Nicholson has been in fine form to help Mike Williamson’s side secure a play-off place.
Last weekend’s penalty shoot-out win at Brackley Town set up Saturday’s semi-final tie at Boston United and Nicholson is keen to continue his first season back in professional football by taking the Heed to within 90 minutes of reclaiming a place in the National League.
He told The Echo: “I enjoyed my last year at Blyth because we had a good group of lads and got into the play-offs.
“But this season, at Gateshead, it’s all really kicked on and going back into full-time football has lifted me again.
“To an extent it has given me more love for the game.
“Once I spoke to Mike (Williamson) and Busted (Ian Watson, assistant manager), I was only ever going to join one club.
“I have enjoyed my football again and I have got my fitness levels back to where they were when I was a professional.
“As a group of players that were put together quickly last summer, we have done well because sometimes it can lead to a tough season when that happens.
“But we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us if we are to achieve what we want to as a group.”
Nicholson admitted that returning to training and matchday routines under the strict COVID-19 regulations has been a challenge.
The Heed players have undergone weekly testing and training sessions have been conducted under the guidelines imposed by the government.
But the Newcastle-born defender is happy to cope with the pressure of preparing in such a unique environment if it means getting a chance to deliver on the pitch.
“You go from zero to 100 and you have to get your mind in gear, no matter what is going on around you,” he explained.
“The play-offs are a knockout competition, and this season, there is something of the unknown in it with the coronavirus and everything that brings.
“It’s probably tougher this year, it’s been a quick return to playing and they are pressure games.
“So far, from the day we came back in, with sticking to the guidelines, we have done really well to get back into things.
“It’s been strange, but you just have to get on with it.”