GARY Finley made an inauspicious start to his career at Witton in the virtually empty surroundings of the International Stadium on Saturday.
Albion registered their 1,500th goal in the UniBond Northern Premier League but along the way failed to beat a team that were not only bottom of the league but were sent packing 4-1 from Wincham Park just two weeks earlier.
In mitigation Albion can point to Gateshead's strong performance early on in the first meeting and their several signings since, most of whom were included in Saturday's line-up.
Their on-loan striker Lee Hamilton was a constant threat and a real handful for the defence who all too often allowed him far too much space. But for Paul Gibson any chance for Witton to salvage the match would have been long gone before a refereeing decision that certainly robbed Albion of a possible share of the points ten minutes from time. Witton saw it as diabolical and not just because of its effect.
With Lee Madin clean through on goal and poised to take on keeper Keith Finch, referee Paul Stalker unbelievably blew his whistle to award Albion a free-kick following a foul challenge.
During the rest of the match the ref had sensibly allowed time for any advantage to occur so there was disbelief when he pulled Madin back from a scoring position to give him a free-kick. The protests from Witton were warm enough to make their point but not too hot to merit yellow or red cards.
Stuart Wise and James Curtis had both gone close for Gateshead before John Stannard bravely won the ball in a challenge in his own half. He quickly played the ball down the middle and Mike Yates outstripped Curtis before sending his shot wide of Finch and the landmark goal came courtesy of the inside of the post.
Yates was denied a second goal on the quarter hour mark, following good inter-change work by Mike Moseley and Ryan Baker, when his shot was hoofed off the line by Paul Buzzeo.
Gibson threw himself to block a strong Wise shot but two minutes later was powerless to stop Hamilton's shot after he broke clear of the defence to latch on to Wise's knock-on header following a Finch goal-kick. As the first-half drew to a close a Gareth Evans long-range shot just dipped over the crossbar and then a cross from the right saw Adam Foy bravely up to head, getting a mouth injury in the process but more hurt when his attempt came back off the post.
Albion's poor marking was sorely punished in the 55th minute as a Steven Richardson corner was floated over and Hamilton again in space this time headed home. Both Yates and Madin got themselves into good positions but their headed attempts were gathered by Finch while Moseley's flicked header from a Madin cross went agonisingly wide of the target.
There was another first of a kind when Brian Pritchard, Foy and Gary Furnival all had to leave the field for treatment to blood-related injuries. WITTON: Gibson; Evans, Pritchard, Furnival, Tickle; Baker, Foy (Madin 69), Barlow, Stannard; Moseley, Yates.
Star Man: Paul Gibson, agile last man. Next Best: Mike Yates. Team Rating: 2. Match Rating: 2.