So far, so great. It is early, early days. But still basking in the afterglow of last season’s near-miss, Gateshead are already revelling in the spotlight of a new campaign.
And no one more so, Gary Mills says, than “boy-to-man” Marcus Maddison.
The Tynesiders are second top of the Vanarama Conference after beating relegated Torquay United 3-1 at the International Stadium on Saturday, and Wrexham 3-0 at the Racecourse Ground on Tuesday night.
Maddison – five years at Newcastle United before his release 18 months ago – scored twice against the Gulls and once against the Red Dragons.
And Mills believes a player he has invested much time in is beginning to deliver his true potential.
“Incredible, he’s come back incredible,” said Mills.
“He’s come back a man, if you like. I see a man in him now. He’s always been a good lad for me. He’s polite, he perhaps gives off a bit of a demeanour with his body language that unless you work with him you don’t understand.
“But I love him to death, to be honest.
“He listens. He’s got something that I don’t want to stop him from doing. You know, sometimes he could pass a ball when he shoots, but I’m not going to stop him from doing that, because if I did, I’d take away what’s good about Marcus.
“You only have to look at his goal against Sunderland in pre-season. Somebody said to me that if (Lionel) Messi had done that, they’d be going mad about it.
“It was an incredible piece of skill that he does day in, day out in training.
“So he’s some player for us, he’s a player who can go and set this league alight. If he keeps working and listening how he is, there’s no doubt that he’ll be playing League football.
“I want that to be with us, I want to keep improving him and for him to really know how special he is. He’s got a special talent, a real special talent that he’s now learning how to use.
“He’s still learning, but he’s a man now. He was a boy when I came here last September, but within 12 months, he’s now a man.”
What looked a potentially testing start to the season continues when Gateshead travel to nouveau-riche Eastleigh on Saturday. Grimsby Town, beaten in last term’s play-off semi-final, head north seven days later.
Yet, while Mills refuses to get carried away by his side’s promising start to the new campaign, the Heed manager is enjoying the heightened attention.
“I’m excited,” he said. “If you don’t get that excitement, then it’s time to get out. In football, you never know what’s round the corner.
“You probably sat here as journalists before I came to the club and thought ‘Where’s this club going?’, and we ended up at Wembley. We had some exciting games and some massive crowds.
“I don’t know what this season’s going to bring, we haven’t got a crystal ball.
“But I know what we’re capable of, and if we play like we can play and the players perform how I know they can perform, not just individually, but as a team, then things could happen.
“It is exciting. The fact (is) that within 12 months the whole outlook of Gateshead is totally different now, not just in and around the town, Newcastle and the North East, but I think it’s global. The whole of the country now is talking about Gateshead.
“A lot of other teams will be looking and fancying us. People ask ‘Can we handle that pressure?’. Yeah, of course we can.
“It’s lovely, and we go into a season with expectation, not just on myself and the players, but the crowd as well.
“Everybody’s got to play their part. I’ve seen a couple of people tipping us to win the league, so it just shows how well we did last season, how far we’ve come in 12 months.”
Mills culled 12 players at the end of last season.
He has recruited nine this summer – including Jon Shaw and Lewis Guy, both of whom have already opened their accounts for the current campaign.
But the Gateshead boss added: “It is a marathon, as they say, not a sprint.
“You look at last season, (Gateshead) lost the first four games, but ended up at Wembley. So it’s not the end of the world, whatever happens early on, and you can’t get carried away either. We wanted to start well but, listen, in football the hardest thing to do is win football matches. That’s the hardest thing. You win one, then you’ve got to go and win another one, and then another.
“We had such a good season last season. We’ve got to now go and win again, and have a better season.
“How good are we? How good am I as a manager? How good are the players that I’ve retained? How good are the players that I’ve brought in?
“If you don’t challenge yourself, if you don’t want it, then we’re going to fall flat on our face.
“I certainly want it, the players have got to want it as much as I do. They did last season, and they’ve got to want it as much this season.”