On Saturday, Celtic make the long trip north to Gateshead for a Conference North clash at the International Stadium (kick off 3pm, there is no live match centre for this game). Gateshead are currently top of the table, thirteen points and four places ahead of Celtic having played three games more.
Their rise up the table in the first year in the Conference North is quite remarkable. After starting the season slowly, dipping as low as thirteenth, they have put together and incredible run that has seen them lose just three times in the last twenty-four games, with only two draws., although they have not matched Telford?s eight match winning streak, nor Tamworth?s fifteen match unbeaten run. They have got the best attack in the league, with nearly two goals a game, having scored sixty-six goals this season, seven more than Celtic. With Celtic recently conceding five, we have been replaced in the top five defences in the league by Gateshead, who have conceded thirty-nine, or 1.15 a game. Gateshead also hold the highest aggregate score-line this season when they beat Hyde 6-3 back in November.
Although Vauxhall held Gateshead to a draw at the International Stadium, Gateshead have recently beaten Hucknall, Workington, Solihull and, most impressively, Tamworth 5-0. Only Stafford and Harrogate have beaten Gateshead at home this season, and they have the strongest home record in the league. That will make this an interesting encounter. The two top attacks, the strongest home side in the league against the strongest away side. Gateshead?s most recent home match was against Celtic?s opponents on Saturday, Fleetwood, and they were held to a 2-2 draw.
We last met Gateshead in February when they came to Bower Fold and walked away 2-1 winners. Our last visit to the International Stadium was back in 2003 in the Unibond when we won 1-0. Gateshead?s last win over us at home was back in February 2000 when they beat us 2-0. Since 1989, we have played twelve games at the International stadium, and won three of them, lost five and drawn four.
Gateshead?s top scorer is also the league?s top scorer, Lee Novak who has found the net twenty-three times this season, putting him ten goals ahead of his nearest rival, Graeme Armstrong. Gateshead score quite freely throughout the game, but are most dangerous in the last quarter of an hour when they have scored seventeen of their sixty-eight goals. Their most vulnerable period is also the last fifteen minutes, when they have conceded eighteen of their forty-one goals this season. On average they score 1.9 goals per game overall (2.4 at home), whilst conceding 1.2 goals per game overall (1.1 at home). They have kept eleven clean sheets, with five of them at home, and failed to score in just one home match against Stafford Rangers back in September (seven overall).
Gateshead will have a full complement of players available for Saturday?s match with Carl Jones and Jamie Harwood passed fit to play, whilst they have no suspension worries. In their last match, the 2-2 draw against Fleetwood, they lined up as:
1. Jim Provett
2. Craig Baxter
3. Phil Cave
4. Kris Gate
5. James Curtiss
6. Matt Hocking
7. Jamie Harwood
8. Alex Francis
9. Graeme Armstrong
10. Lee Novak
11. Wayne Phillips
Celtic will be without Andy Smart, who is making excellent progress, but are otherwise at full strength. In Celtic?s last match, the 1-1 draw away at Droylsden, Celtic lined up as:
1. Paul Phillips
2. Ashley Woolliscroft
3. Rhys Meynell
4. Barrie Keeling
5. Michael Bowler
6. Paul Sykes
7. Steve Torpey
8. Keith Briggs
9. Nathan Joynes
10. Matty Barlow
11. Chris Denham
The automated prediction algorithm has this game down as a 1-1 draw, which would be an excellent result for Celtic, given the strength of Gateshead at the moment and is an indicator of how strong Celtic are away from home. It would also be some measure of revenge for the 2-1 reversal at Bower Fold. Gateshead have drawn their last two home matches, and Celtic their last two away matches, giving identical records. Celtic concede less on the road than Gateshead score, with the same true of scoring.
Other matches on Saturday:
Blyth Spartans (29pts, 20th) v Stafford Rangers (38pts, 15th)
Droylsden (47 pts, 8th) v Southport (63pts, 3rd)
Farsley Celtic (34pts, 17th) v Solihull Moors (37pts, 16th)
Fleetwood Town (44pts, 10th) v Harrogate Town (49pts, 7th)
Hucknall Town (22pts, 22nd) v Tamworth (64pts, 2nd)
Hyde Untied (29pts, 21st) v King?s Lynn (39pts, 14th)
Redditch United (31pts, 19th) v Gainsborough Trinity (44pts, 11th)
Vauxhall Motors (42pts, 12th) v Alfreton Town (50pts, 6th)
Workington (39pts, 13th) v Hinckley United (47pts, 9th)