Gateshead Ladies looking to make history against Harrogate Town in Women's FA Cup
It is being billed as the most important match in Gateshead Ladies’ short history.
On Sunday (2pm kick-off), they host Harrogate Town at the International Stadium 4G pitch in the third qualifying round of the Women’s FA Cup.
It is the first time the Heed – formed in 2020 – have taken part in the prestigious club competition and their cup run has gone pretty well so far.
The first qualifying round saw them beat Guisborough Town from the division above 12-0. They then got the better of Spennymoor Town, also from the division above, in the next round with a dramatic 2-1 win.
But manager Simon Johnson admits Sunday’s test against a Harrogate side ranked two divisions higher will be the toughest so far.
"It’s a historical time for the club and the players with it being the first year we’ve competed in the Women’s FA Cup,” he told The Echo.
“For the majority of the playing squad, it's also the first time they have competed in the competition so it's a landmark game for us.
"We've done our research on Harrogate, they have had a good start to the season two leagues above. They are similar to ourselves in terms of identity and style where they play through the thirds and I'm expecting it to be similar to the Spennymoor game in the previous round with two teams wanting to play.
"For us, we'll put emphasis on how we want to play and create chances, which is something we've been able to do against higher opposition previously.”
Gateshead Ladies achieved promotion in their inaugural season and currently compete in the Durham FA Women’s League One – the seventh tier of the women’s game in England.
The club itself is a voluntary, self-funded organisation to which cup progress is a crucial source of income.
Progress to the third qualifying round has already netted the club £850 in prize money. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s already covered pitch booking fees and training facilities for the rest of the season.
Victory on Sunday would net the club a further £600 and a first round tie on Sunday, November 14. At that stage, third tier women’s teams such as Wolves, Burnley and Middlesbrough enter the competition.
"Winning would be massive,” Johnson admitted. “Just playing and getting as far as we have so far has been a journey in itself but if we were to go one step further and qualify for the first round proper, following in the footsteps of the men's team – who beat Marske United the other night – it would obviously be a massive coup for the club.
"The results are important but financially we will really benefit too because the prize money we've received so far has gone back into the team.
"If we can go one step forward and win on Sunday, the added prize money would be a big bonus.
"At this level, we know the players are here because they want to be here. There is no monetary factor and we are self-funded but it's a case of making sure that we have success in order to bring more money in, much like the men's team."
Gateshead have recently been dealt a blow with last season’s top scorer Jade Anderson departing due to personal reasons.
But with Amber Douglas back from suspension and new signings imminent, Johnson is seeing this Sunday’s match as another opportunity for his players to impress.
“We've had a few outgoings but we'll have some incomings ahead of the game,” he revealed.
"Naturally, competition brings good times for those who are playing but those who aren't need to make sure that when they're needed they take their chance.
"We've needed our squad the past couple of weeks and whoever is on the bench and whoever starts will be ready to take the opportunity.”
Following promotion last season, Johnson stepped into the managerial position in the summer, replacing Michael Gray.
It’s the 25-year-old’s first managerial role and one he is relishing so far.
"I'm fairly young myself but I back myself and the group of players,” he said. “What is important is that the players have bought into what I want to achieve and embed in terms of the style of play.
"It's a testament to the players with the way they're playing and the results we're getting.
"[Working in women’s football] has pushed me and something that has taken some getting used to from a coaching perspective is getting questions from the players which keeps me on my toes and helps me develop.
"I'd say in the last three to four months, I've developed more as a coach and been able to change my style working with different groups of players.
"Naturally, you have to manage different characters but it's a role I'm relishing along with the support of the players and everyone involved at the club.”
And while the odds may be stacked against Gateshead Ladies this weekend, the belief in the squad is apparent.
“Our attitude and resilience sum up what we’re all about,” Johnson admitted.
"In the last round, we were 1-0 up and in control of the game. Then we concede in the 82nd minute and it goes straight to penalties if it’s a draw.
"It would have been easy for our players to think, 'we're playing a team in the league above, let's just get to penalties.'
“Instead, our centre-halves grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and brought the ball from one box to the other and it led to us scoring the winner.
"We've had a set-back but instead of going in on ourselves, we've shown our character and attitude to bounce back quickly.
"It's got us through to the stage we're at now and on Sunday we'll definitely be tested again – it's just about how we react and show our qualities.”