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Pani on senior debut, FA Youth cup drama & aiming to impress
Josh Youll
Author: Josh Youll

21st September 2021

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Connor Pani.

The midfielder arrived on the books at the International Stadium in the summer after impressing early in pre-season after being called up to first team training from the academy setup.

A combative performance from the Gateshead FC Academy midfielder against Hebburn Town was rewarded with a professional contract by player-manager Mike Williamson.

“I’m loving every second of it,” said Pani. 

“Coming in and training everyday – it’s amazing. 

“The atmosphere is fantastic, the coaches and lads are brilliant. 

“They’ve welcomed me in and helped me settle, which makes it an easier environment. 

“Being in the same team as the likes of Mike [Williamson] is what every young kid dreams of. 

“I first joined the academy as I’ve always been playing football from a young age. 

“The courses they offered were perfect for me, and the opportunity to progress into the senior game was exactly what I was looking for. 

“Earning the contract felt amazing – me and my family definitely weren’t expecting it, so I can’t describe the feeling of pride when I was told by the gaffer.”

Photo: Emilio Kirtley

The Heed’s number 17 showcased a number of impressive displays in friendly action, topped off with a brace against Ashington. 

“I treated pre-season as a chance to show what I could do,” he added.

“From the first training session, the amount I’ve personally improved is huge. 

“I felt a stronger player as the games came by, and that’s thanks to the coaching staff. 

“The first few games were nerve-wracking, but I’ve gained in confidence on the ball. 

“There’s obviously a bit of a physicality difference, so one of my main focuses was getting in the gym and trying to push on. 

“The two goals topped pre-season off, however it’s about looking ahead to the rest of this season, where hopefully I can bag a few more!” 

Pani did indeed find the back of the net on Thursday evening – the start of a hectic few days for the youngster. 

Gateshead under-18’s went a goal down against Spennymoor Town in the FA Youth Cup, but Pani’s looping header on 55 minutes made for a dramatic penalty shootout. 

The midfielder rifled his spot kick past the home goalkeeper, before Heed stopper Sam Wilson’s save secured safe passage for Ben Clark’s side.

“It was a disappointment to go behind,” added Pani. 

“We took it as a wake up call, and we started to give 110%. 

“I’m more than proud to get the equaliser, and to do my job in the shootout. 

 “We weren’t expecting the best standard of games, we knew it would be scrappy, but everyone ran themselves into the ground.  

“That’s what makes a good team, working together and fighting for one another.” 

Less than 48 hours later, Pani was introduced at Gateshead International Stadium as Williamson’s first-team entertained Bradford (Park Avenue) in the Emirates FA Cup. 

With 14 minutes to go, Dan Ward made way for the teenager in front of 502 supporters on Tyneside. 

Pani was thrilled to make his senior debut in the 6-2 victory, but believes there’s plenty more work to do in the near future. 

“I’ve been told I need to prove myself and to show I’m capable of playing at this level. 

“The coaches told me I did well in training on Thursday and there was a chance I’d be involved. 

“Hearing the crowd as I got ready to come on, it sent shivers down my spine. 

“It was one of the most nervy moments of my life, but I somehow managed to keep focused and help the boys for the last few minutes. 

“The feeling at the full-time whistle was phenomenal, seeing how proud Mike and Busted [Ian Watson] were. 

“To get a win and some minutes in the legs felt outstanding – the lads were quality and were buzzing in the changing rooms afterwards.

“It doesn’t stop there though, I’ve got my eyes set on improving and tasting even more action.” 

The Heed return to the National League North on Saturday afternoon, welcoming Gloucester City before a trip to Runcorn Linnets in Emirates FA Cup action the following week.

Pani knows that the hard work has only just begun, saying: “I’m looking forward to the coming weeks.

“For me, I’m trying to work as hard as possible in training, in order to hopefully impress.  

“There are always areas for improvement, especially as a young lad. 

“Gloucester will be a tough game for the lads, no game will be a walkover, but we’ve got a huge amount of talent in the squad.” 

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