FA CUP PREVIEW: Gateshead v Luton Town
New Gateshead boss Steve Watson has targeted a return to the Football League after being appointed in charge of the Tynesiders just under two months ago.
The former Newcastle United midfielder replaced Port Vale-bound Neil Aspin on October 11 in what is his first managerial appointment and now hopes to end over 50 years of non-league football at the Heed, after they were relegated in 1960.
Despite averaging crowds of just 819 this term, on his arrival, Watson said: “Everything is geared towards trying to become a league club.
“There’s a lot of hard work that needs to be done but we’re prepared to roll our sleeves up. I hope to be the last piece of the jigsaw to do that.
“The squad is better than that position, we’ve got some very good players who just need to get their confidence and belief back again which is what I intend to do.
“We’ve got a set of fans from an area which is one of the most passionate.”
Since taking the reins, Watson has led something of a resurgence at the club, that had won just four times in their opening 15 National League games.
He began with a 2-1 FA Cup win at Northern Premier League side Buxton, before losing 3-2 at Eastleigh in his first league match.
However, the Heed then went on a five match unbeaten run, starting by triumphing 2-0 at Leyton Orient, as they didn’t concede in that time too, drawing 0-0 with Dover and then defeating Chelmsford in the FA Cup 2-0.
They followed that up by winning 3-0 at Maidenhead and beating Tranmere 1-0 as well to show the strides they were making under Watson.
The new chief did suffer a first home loss recently, beaten 2-1 by Barrow, while last weekend they were held 1-1 at strugglers Solihull Moors.
That sees the Tynesiders sitting 15th in the table, although they are some 11 points away from the relegation zone, but still eight adrift of a play-off place too.
On how he is looking to achieve success at the club, Watson continued: “I want to play good football, it’s one of my remits of being a manager, but it has to be successful.
“I’ll do anything to be successful on the pitch, in an ideal world you’d play brilliantly, pop the ball around and win games but there will be times where we can’t do that in this league.
“It’s my job to find the right method for the right game.”
Team news: Luton will be without striker James Collins for the cup tie, as he recovers from injury, while Scott Cuthbert won’t feature either, as he is out with a groin problem.
For Heed, midfielder Russell Penn is suspended, with captain Neill Byrne and Luke Hannant injury doubts.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton 12. Heed: Danny Johnson 6.
Man in the middle: Ben Toner - Taken 15 games so far this season, showing 42 yellows and two reds.
Refereed Luton twice last campaign, a 2-0 win at Morecambe, sending off the hosts’ Alex Whitmore, and then the 5-2 Checkatrade Trophy win over Yeovil Town.
Took the Hatters twice during the 2015-16 season as well, the 2-0 win at Mansfield and also a 3-2 defeat at Notts County, where he showed Scott Cuthbert a red card late on.
Before that, he had the whistle for a 2-1 loss at Welling in the FA Cup back in 2013.
Referee’s assistants are Barry Cropp and Alf Greenwood, with Barry Gordon the fourth official.
In charge: Steve Watson, had a fine playing career, as started out at Newcastle United, becoming the youngest player to represent the Magpies, when he came on as a sub against Wolves in November 1990, aged just 19.
Went on to play over 200 times for the club, featuring in the FA Cup final in 1998, before moving to Aston Villa for £4m in October 1998.
Joined Everton in the the summer of 2000 in a £2.5m deal, where his career was blighted by injury, as he headed to West Bromwich Albion in 2005.
Loaned to Sheffield Wednesday in February 2007, joining permanently later in the year, before his playing career finished in 2009.
Appointed development coach of Huddersfield in November 2010 under former team-mate Lee Clark before being coach of Birmingham in August 2012 when Clark moved there.
Sacked in October 2014 and became assistant manager at Macclesfield Town in July 2016, as he was appointed manager of Gateshead in October this year.
View from the opposition: Steve Watson talking to the club’s official website: “Luton are a big club who score a lot of goals.
“They are having a good season and it is a tie we will embrace.
“We have home advantage and have nothing to lose. There is no fear on our part and we’ll go for it on the day.
“We’ll be the underdogs, but I’m sure the players will lift their levels on the day and rise to the occasion.
“We haven’t been at our best in beating Buxton and Chelmsford in the previous rounds but the prize for beating Luton is huge.”
One to watch: Danny Johnson – 24-year-old striker, who came through the ranks at Tranmere, playing a handful of games for Rovers, before he had a brief loan spell at Stevenage.
Joined Gateshead in August 2015, scoring 13 goals in his first season, before hitting 18 for the Heeds last term.
Up and running on the first game this campaign, and has gone on to score six times in 18 games this term.
Played for both: Striker Jon Shaw came through the ranks at Sheffield Wednesday, before spells at York City and Darlington, joining Burton Albion in November 2004.
Headed to Halifax for an undisclosed fee in August 2007 and then moved Rochdale a year later, with loan stints at Barrow and Gateshead during his time at Spotland.
Left Dale by mutual consent to sign for Mansfield in January 2010, where he spent five months, heading to Gateshead in May 2010.
Became a cult hero for the Tynesiders with over 50 goals in two years, as his prolific form saw Luton finally get their man on a two year deal in June 2012.
Netted on his Town debut against Gatehead, but didn’t ever enjoy the sort of goal return expected, with just 10 strikes in 51 matches.
Rejoined Gateshead in June 2014, before signing for South Shields, helping the club win the FA Vase last term, after reverting to a central defensive role, and has played 72 times, scoring 15 goals.
Friendly faces: JJ O’Donnell – midfielder was signed up by Luton from St Albans in August 2010, going on to make 51 appearances for the club, scoring three times.
Had loan spells at Hyde and Gateshead during his time with Town, before released in July 2014 and heading to Heed on a permanent basis.
A serious foot injury has restricted the 26-year-old’s time up north, missing two years of football, although thankfully he is now fit again and has played eight games this term.
We’ve got form: Hatters have not really enjoyed their trips to Gateshead in recent seasons with just one win in five visits to date.
They started out okay, winning 1-0 in the Conference back in 2010 thanks to keeper Paul Farman’s own goal.
However the next four matches saw Town draw two and lose two, scoring only once, that one in an embarrassing 5-1 thrashing when the game was switched to Carlisle, Dan Walker on target.
The two sides did also meet three times when Gateshead were originally formed as South Shields, with Luton drawing 0-0 at home in the FA Cup back in December 1913, losing the replay 2-0 and meeting again in the competition eight years later, romping to a 4-0 victory.
Last time out: Luton Town were held to an instantly forgettable 0-0 draw in terrible conditions on their last visit to Gateshead, that a Conference clash in November 2013.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Ronnie Henry, Scott Griffiths, Steve McNulty, Alex Lacey, Andy Parry, Jonathan Smith, Jake Howells (Alex Wall 83), Luke Guttridge, Paul Benson, Andre Gray (Mark Cullen 71).
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Solomon Taiwo, Jim Stevenson.
Referee: Ross Joyce.