Giuliano Grazioli, the striker whose header was responsible for holding the pounds 34m pride of Tyneside to a draw in Hertfordshire last Sunday, limped across the running track with his head bowed and his right shin badly bruised after half-an-hour.
"He should be all right for Wednesday night," Paul Fairclough, the Stevenage manager, maintained later. It remains to be seen, however, whether Fairclough's prized possession will be firing on all cylinders at St James' Park.
Stevenage were not yesterday but that was because Gateshead, the poor relations of Tyneside football, followed the snappy underdog lead the Hertfordshire Boro boys showed against Newcastle a week ago. As Fairclough duly acknowledged: "They did to us what we did to Newcastle." That Stevenage minds might not have been concentrated on the job at hand seemed evident before kick-off. Fairclough had made a lunchtime detour with his squad, to acquaint them with St James' Park. And when the Borough party crossed the Tyne Bridge it was discovered that the numbers two and three shirts had not been packed. Hence James Dillnutt and Jamie March wore 12 and 14 respectively.
They did so on a sand-trap of a pitch on which even the celebrated Spalding ball had no chance of bouncing. "New balls please," a forlorn voice from the main stand implored after 10 minutes of near-slapstick action on a surface that would have been better suited to the talents of Jonathan Edwards.
Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish was a conspicuous absentee, although he did not, in any case, miss much. Not until the 17th minute did anything resembling a move materialise, though admittedly it was a good one by any standards, Neil Trebble peeling off to the left to deliver a low cross Gary Crawshaw would have converted had Dean Williams not been the epitome of agility in the home goal.
Such dire straits had not been beheld since the band itself played on the same stage. And it got worse for Fairclough, much worse. Linford Christie would have struggled to keep up with the Stevenage manager as he made his way to the javelin-throwing area, where Grazioli lay in a clearly distressed state.
Fairclough's leading man had been a victim of his own over eagerness, crashing into Williams, the Gateshead 'keeper, while attempting to score from an offside position. Fairclough, though, was clearly concerned about the strength of the home challenges. His protests earned a rebuke from referee Matt Massias.
There were no complaints, however, when Gateshead struck in the second minute of first-half injury-time, Derek Ord almost splintering the left upright with a thunderbolt of a 25-yard shot.
Gateshead, adrift at the foot of the Vauxhall Conference, held their lead until the 80th minute. Kenny Lowe tripped Crawshaw, who administered the due punishment from the penalty spot. The Stevenage striker did more than that. With less than a minute remaining, he side-footed the winner.Reuse content