Carl Morrison said he “couldn’t speak more highly” of his Gateshead Ladies side in the wake of their extra-time Women’s FA Cup first round defeat on Sunday.
The Heed took Alnwick Town Women – sitting one division higher than them in the pyramid – past 90 minutes in their first-ever first round tie at Gateshead International Stadium (4G), before a 105th minute penalty sent the visitors through by the narrowest of margins.
“The game was fantastic – I think it was a credit to the FA Cup,” said Morrison.
“It was a full-blooded tie with two teams fighting for the win in a really good game of football, we were just unfortunate to come out on the wrong side of it.
“The girls were quite open about how nervous they were, and I thought that was a good thing.
“It’s a big game so you probably should be nervous, but it’s about how you use those nerves and how we deal with them as a group.
“I can’t speak more highly of the girls in how they did that, from our chat in the changing room to getting up on the pitch, you wouldn’t think anyone had any nerves because they dealt with it so well.
“We spoke about what we’re like as a team. and we said sometimes when we haven’t been fully on it or have lost games, it’s been more down to ourselves from a psychological respect.
“We needed to be on it on Sunday, there could be no lapses in concentration and we needed to react to everything.
“If we scored, we knew we couldn’t concede one straight away, which sometimes we’ve had a habit of doing.
“That was the most pleasing thing for me, but the girls have also set the bar now by showing that when they all perform at that level, they can give anybody a game.”
Heading into the tie facing an Alnwick side who ran out 8-0 winners in the League Cup earlier this season, Gateshead started on the front foot with Liv Black and Sharon Bell getting shots on target, though the visitors would take the lead 15 minutes in.
Black was the provider for The Heed’s leveller 17 minutes later, teeing up Jess Richardson to finish from the right-hand side of the penalty area and set up a tense remaining hour.
Both goalkeepers had a say in sending the game to extra-time, with Alnwick’s stopper pulling off impressive stops from Richardson and Bell before Carly Salmon prevented what seemed a certain goal two minutes into injury time.
An end-to-end extra-time period saw Alnwick convert from the penalty spot to progress, signalling the end of Gateshead Ladies’ historic FA Cup campaign with an immense effort.
“We did have people who were struggling, but they battled on and fought through it,” added Morrison.
“People gave us longer than they probably had in the tank, they ran through brick walls and everyone was just so driven and determined to do the team justice.
“When you thought somebody was flagging, they would make a recovery run or press the ball, and it was amazing to see.
“They never stopped working and never gave up, even when we conceded in extra time we were still pressing and still looking the more likely to score.
“At 1-0 down, people might have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go’, but I never felt that at all.
“I had full faith in the players because of how they started the game, and the response was absolutely fantastic.
“We got a thoroughly deserved equaliser and from then on I felt we were the better team, and were so unlucky not to win.
“The togetherness of the group has been huge, we have a team with players who are willing to fight for each other and work for the units in front of them.
“We’ve brought some girls in who are, first and foremost, the characters that we want to bring into the club but are fantastic players as well, and the team spirit has never been better.”
Gateshead Ladies are back in NERWFL action this Sunday afternoon, travelling to Chester-le-Street United Women (2pm kick off), before facing Thornaby Ladies on home soil the following weekend.
Morrison and his players believe Sunday’s effort has set their standard going forward, adding: “The one thing that the girls said straight away after the game was that this is what we do every week from now on.
“It was a big learning day for us all and we all know the levels we need to reach now – myself, Hugo and Rusty included.
“We know what we can achieve as a group, but also what we need to do to get to those levels, so that has got to be the bar now.
“If we can get to that every week, then the future is really bright.”