Size isn’t everything. But Gregg Smith is showing that a big man can make a big difference.
Just one week after the target man was roughing up the Boston United defence for Stamford, he was on the scoresheet for his new employers, heading home at Gateshead’s International Stadium in this afternoon’s final warm-up match before things really kick off next Saturday.
United may have been on the losing side as their higher-division opponents came from behind to claim victory in a five-goal contest, but his appearance made a marked difference.
The Pilgrims have a proud tradition of utilising a big man up top, Micky Nuttell, Neil Tarrant and Danny Davidson all playing their parts in the club’s past three promotions.
But in recent years, with the exception of Jason Lee, an imposing presence up top has been missing from the team sheet.
Could the arrival of Smith, who signed his Pilgrims deal prior to kick off this afternoon, change all that?
From kick off this afternoon he looked up for it. Smith enjoyed his afternoon, throwing his body about, chasing the ball and sliding in to win challenges, even dropping short to play link-up man.
His most obvious contribution, however, was his ability to hold the ball up, to give his teammates time to burst into threatening positions, to take that gamble without fear of the ball being won back as they sprinted forward out of position.
Smith may be the man to aid those around him, but he also proved he knows where the net is as his 28th minute header gave United a 1-0 interval lead.
Meeting Callum Chippendale’s deep cross at the back post, he powered his header into Sam Johnson’s near top corner, the power too much for the Heed number one.
Twelve minutes afte the re-start the hosts - who made six changes at the break - were on level terms, with two of those introductions linking up as Wes York was gifted a tap-in courtesy of Sam Jones’ square ball.
But anything they can do, so can Jay Rollins. Just one minute after his introduction the Pilgrims attacker found the net after rifling home a low strike from outside the hosts’ penalty area.
Sixty seconds later, in the 63rd minute, things were level once again as a poorly-defended corner allowed Liam Hogan to head home at the back post.
And the Heed took the lead for the first time in the 69th minute, York gifted another tap-in after Christian Dibble failed to hold onto a routine cross.
The Boston keeper was convinced he was fouled while collecting the ball, but referee Marc Edwards didn’t agree.
The first half began with Smith latching on to Lewis Hilliard’s long, cross-field pass but being unable to guide his volley on target.
Gateshead’s early pressure saw Ryan Bowman well placed, but his strike was deflected over.
Back came Boston with two speculative efforts from Jason St Juste and a strike over the bar from Lamin Colley.
Gateshead’s Danny Johnson should have done better when well placed, while Callum Chippendale - who has looked a different player since being used in the middle of the park in recent weeks - almost doubled United’s advantage.
Collecting Hilliard’s rolled free kick at feet he beat Johnson on the turn but defender Jamal Fyfield was in the right place to head clear.
The second half offered more goals but fewer efforts of not.
Rollins couldn’t force a Smith cross on target and Colley, well placed, found the ball stuck under his feet.
For Gateshead, Hogan again went close as Boston were left flat footed from yet another troublesome corner.
Bring on Saturday, when things start for real.
GATESHEAD: S. Johnson (Hanford HT), G. Smith, M. Smith (Mafuta HT), Hogan, Brundle (York HT), D. Johnson (Clark HT), Sweeney (Styche HT), Bolton, Bowman (Jones HT), Fyfield (Hannant 74), McLaughlin; Subs (not used): Bell.
UNITED: Dibble (Emery 80), Trialist, Maguire, Pepe-Ngoma, Wildin (Burgess 61), Marshall (Rollins 61), Chippendale (Hilliard 85), Hilliard (Adams 64), St Juste, Colley (Fairhurst 61), Smith; Subs (not used): Roberts.
Ref: Marc Edwards.