Gateshead enter the final month of the campaign third in the Conference Premier after Luton Town loanee JJ O’Donnell struck a last-minute winner against their play-off rivals Braintree.
It was a priceless strike – his first for the club – from the 22-year-old, who had been pushed into a more advanced role following a triple substitution after 65 minutes.
The Heed had been inefective in midfield against a Braintree side in the middle of a crippling eight games in two weeks schedule.
Jamie Chandler and Rob Ramshaw provided fresh legs in the engine room with Carl Magnay drafted into the left side of the defence.
Former Chelsea starlet Magnay played a hand in O’Donnell’s last-gasp winner, which was set up by James Marwood and strengthened the Tynesiders’ play-off hopes.
A poor performance in a disappointing game was soon forgetten when O’Donnell shot across Nick Hamann to give Gateshead victory.
Braintree boss Alan Devonshire was stunned by the injustice of the late winner after his side had restricted the hosts to little beforehand.
Gateshead counterpart Gary Mills backed up the former West Ham midfielder’s analysis of the game, but praised his side’s resilience and determination.
“We weren’t at our best by any means,” said Mills, “but when you hang in and keep a clean sheet you pick up at least a point, and can sometimes nick all three.
“Braintree are one of the best sides we’ve played but we’ve proved we can get three points in different ways.
“We weren’t great against Braintree and have won the game without being at our best, but sometimes you have to win ugly – and it was a massive three points.
“Our decision-making wasn’t always right, the final ball lacking, and we gave it away too often, but credit to Braintree, they made it difficult for us.”
Marks missed a great chance from seven yards and had another shot saved by a diving Bartlett.
It appeared that if anyone was going to win this dour game, it was going to be Braintree.
Gateshead had rarely threatened, but they produced a real sting in the tail when O’Donnell drove into the far corner to spark wild celebrations.