Report by John Edwards
Altrincham 0 Gateshead 1
Marcus Dinanga returned to haunt Altrincham with a clinical first-half finish that proved decisive on an afternoon of non-stop frustration for the Robins at a rain-soaked J.Davidson Stadium.
First goalscorer Dinanga is a bet that will have tempted many an Alty fan prior to kick-off, though they might have struggled to find a bookie willing to offer odds on such a racing certainty.
As it turned out, he was the only goalscorer, and that will only have added to Alty's anguish after the number of clear-cut chances they created but failed to put away, Regan Linney having a rare off-day in the finishing department and Joe Hugill hitting the underside of the bar.
Heavy rain for most of the morning cast a slight doubt over whether the game would go ahead, but the sterling efforts of the ground staff helped ensure the pitch was just about playable, if somewhat heavy, come 3pm.
Alty seemed to be making heavy weather of the opening stages, and they would have gone behind in only the fourth minute but for a miraculous save by Ollie Byrne.
Dinanga, back on familiar territory following his move to Gateshead earlier this season, met a right-wing cross with an intelligent cushioned header that set up Kamil Conteh in acres of space just to the left of the penalty spot.
As the ball dropped to him, the big striker connected perfectly with a first-time volley that looked destined for the roof of the net until Byrne took off to his left to palm it away with a blinding reflex save.
The Robins were taking a while to get going, but they fashioned an opening in the 12th minute when Tyrese Sinclair looked up from the right touchline and played the ball infield to Maxi Oyedele, who strode forward before drilling a low shot narrowly wide.
Gateshead could count themselves fortunate to escape two minutes later after being carved open by John Lundstram's unrivalled ability to dispossess an opponent and execute a killer pass in one split-second.
Sinclair was the recipient of the pass, after Lundstram had brilliantly reiieved an opposing midfielder of the ball in the centre circle, and the winger was only denied by keeper Filip Marschall's outstretched boot as he attempted to clip a shot past him.
Alty had certainly evened things up, and were looking the better, more threatening side, when Gateshead struck in the 33rd minute. And you might know it was Dinanga who did the damage.
Played in on the left of the area, the former Alty striker looked as if he might have missed out on a clear sight of goal after hesitating for a moment over trying his luck. That made the angle slightly tighter, but it made no difference as he rifled a fierce shot past Byrne and into the net.
He did celebrate the breakthrough at the Golf Road End - and who could blame him? - but, to be fair, it was nothing excessive or that could be construed as being in any way provocative.
There was so nearly a second goal for Alty in the 36th minute when Connor Pani met a left-wing cross with a header that hit the bar.
From almost going 2-0 behind, Alty should have been level just seconds later after the Gateshead goal had an incredible escape.
Sinclair latched on to an Oyedele pass, and Marschall could only parry the winger's low drive towards the lurking Hugill, who rattled the underside of the bar from little more than six yards. To be fair to Hugill, he had next to no time to think, so rapidly did the ball reach him, but what a chance for the Robins.
The conditions may have been difficult. but both teams were making light of them in what was becoming an open, entertaining encounter, with Alty having strong penalty appeals waved away in the 40th minute.
Hugill made inroads down the left and when Sinclair anticipated the low cross that followed and moved to meet it, he appeared to be upended by Pani's lunging challenge.
The referee was having none of it, though, and the protests were only just dying down when Gateshead went up the other end and carved out two clear chances in quick succession.
When a left-wing corner was only half-cleared, Adam Campbell seized on the loose ball and hammered a shot that was bound for the Alty net until Lundstram hurled himself in the way to keep it out with an astonishing headed block.
That led to a corner on the right, and, from this one, it took another fine reflex save by Byrne to prevent Callum Whelan doubling the visitors' lead with a well-struck right-foot shot.
Alty had the last say of an eventful first half with an Oyedele header that was saved at full stretch, but it was Gateshead who went in a goal to the good.
The Robins also had the first say of the second half, and what a chance it was for Linney to head his side back on terms.
Sinclair had tried to beat his man on the outside more often than not in the first half, but he cut inside on this occasion and produced a cross that looked tailor-made for the onrushing Linney, who uncharacteristically headed narrowly over from close range.
At the other end, Byrne had to be at his best to prevent a second Gateshead goal, winning the battle of wits with Campbell and saving with his boot when the Tynesiders' skipper was clean through.
The pace showed no sign of slackening, as Alty turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye in the 62nd minute.
After seizing possession near the halfway line, Isaac Marriott used his turbo-charged acceleration to surge past two challenges before giving Linney the chance to shape an opportunity for a shot that fizzed inches wide of the far post.
Gateshead might well have been down to 10 men moments later when centre-back Louis Storey momentarily tried to haul Oyedele back before perhaps realising he had already been booked and allowing the midfielder to proceed on a run that eventually fizzled out. Referee Atkinson could easily have blown when that initial, cynical contact was made, and if he had, Storey would have been off.
Proof it wasn't to be Linney's day arrived in the 75th minute when the normally-lethal finisher failed to capitalise on a Sinclair cross - Marschall saving from close range - and then headed over from another Sinclair delivery literally 10 seconds later.
And so it continued, frustration all the way, right up to the last second of added time when Harry Perritt rose to meet an Eddy Jones free-kick only to head fractionally over, with no time to take the goal-kick before the final whistle sounded.
Altrincham - Byrne, Welch-Hayes, Perritt, Ferguson, E.Jones, Sinclair, Lundstram, Marriott, Oyedele (Osborne 81), Linney, Hugill (Hulme 70). Subs not used - Gould, Pringle.
Booked - Linney, Oyedele, Hulme.
Gateshead - Marschall, Tinkler, Storey, Pye (Bailey 46), Pani, Weare, Francis, Whelan, Campbell, Conteh (Olley 64), Dinanga. Subs not used - Montgomery, Ward, Martin.
Booked - Whelan, Storey, Tinkler, Bailey, Olley, Francis.
Referee - Ben Atkinson.
Attendance - 1,804 (144).