Gary Mills feels that the “hard work” starts here for Gateshead as they look to bounce back from their Wembley play-off heartbreak.
Mills’ side have enjoyed a magnificent second half of the campaign but came up just short as they looked to end a 54-year wait to return to the Football League.
To make things worse, it was former Newcastle United trainee Ryan Donaldson, who helped Gateshead to stay in the division last season, who plunged the knife in by setting up Liam Hughes’ opener and then curling a brilliant free kick past Adam Bartlett.
A late goal from Jack Lester offered Gateshead hope and teed up a grandstand finish for the Tynesiders but it was not to be for Mills’ side as they staged a late comeback.
Now the job for the Gateshead manager is to consolidate the gains of the last few weeks and try to return the club to the Football League next season, although he recognises it will not be a straightforward task.
“Of course, the opportunity has gone today, but my job now is to get even better than what we were over the last seven months,” said Mills (pictured left).
“This is where the hard work starts. People think the job ends when the season ended. This is the hard part.
“I have got to put together a squad of players who will make us stronger for next season.
“We have worked so hard and done superbly well. But when you work hard mentally it can drain you, but we kept going and going. We didn’t quite finish it off, so we are gutted, if course. We had an opportunity over 90 minutes to get Gateshead Football Club out of the non-league and we didn’t quite do it.
“It’s difficult to take at the moment. We have to bounce back and I know that. This is the game. It’s not all happy days. You have to be stronger for it, show what you are made of and bounce back again.”
Mills now heads into summer talks with chairman Graham Wood with an idea of what he needs. He will get a bigger budget thanks to the success but will again have to squeeze performances out of his team.
He said: “We need a little more quality in some areas. We have never really had an out-and -out striker this
season. We have been biting and bobbing down the middle.
“We have scored a number of goals and we mixed that up all over the park.
“We have kept clean sheets, which I love, but when we dominate games we do need a 20-plus striker like everyone does.
“It’s a hard day for me. I didn’t come here thinking ‘ach, we’ve have a good season, anyway’ because we have been 90 minutes away from the Football League.
“It would have been massive for the area and massive for myself to get back to being a Football League manager.
“There is a lot of emotion, a lot of things to take in. Things are never simple. When you are in this game you have to be strong. You need to be able to take disappointment or you’ll drift out of the game. So this will make me stronger. I will be back more determined. I have learned from this season. I am proud of the players and what they have given me. I am proud they have taken me to Wembley. What summed us up was that we were two goals down and never gave in.”
Mills correctly pinpointed a lack of cutting edge as the difference between the two sides.
“I just thought we lacked up front,” he said. “We had a lot of the ball and yet when we got in good areas, we didn’t hurt them. When we did get there, I thought the quality wasn’t good enough.
“We had a lot of the ball without hurting them.”