THE last time Bradford (Park Avenue) played Gateshead on Tyneside, in the FA Cup second round qualifying, they were on the end of a punishing 6-2 defeat.

Since then Gateshead have gone on a rich run of league victories which has seen them reach the summit of the Vanarama National League North.

And with eight wins in their last nine matches, no one was in any doubt about the task facing Avenue when the teams met on Saturday.

No wonder Avenue celebrated the full-time whistle as though they had won. A nil-nil draw was never more satisfying.

Goalkeeper George Sykes-Kenworthy was on top form, pulling off brilliant saves to keep Gateshead out.

The Tynesiders were fast out of the traps - and enjoyed a strong spell of play which saw them create two clear chances in the first five minutes.

Avenue had Luca Havern to thank for strong defending. Sam Fielding and Mark Ross were also working well together.

Avenue’s first real chance came on 13 minutes when midfielder Simon Richman played a superb cross in for Harrison Hopper, but Gateshead’s defence were alert to the danger.

As the first half went on Avenue grew in confidence as Gateshead’s frustration at not being able to make the breakthrough began to show.

Lewis Knight had a good chance only for the ref to blow for a foul, but Sykes-Kenworthy was by far the busiest Avenue player, keeping out a stream of Gateshead chances.

It was the same story in the second half - Sykes-Kenworthy playing out of his skin to keep Avenue in the game - as the defence was tested once more.

Afterwards, Mark Bower paid tribute to his players.

“Gateshead are the best team we have seen at this level for quite a few years,” he said.

“Before now, they’ve been scoring goals for fun.

“Coming up against a full-time team after you’ve played mid-week is always tough for a part-time squad.

“I thought we were pretty good in the first half - compact and restricting them to nothing too clear cut. We had a couple of chances, particularly when Knight was through one-on-one with the keeper but the ref pulled it back for a foul which I thought was very soft.

“At the start of the second half I thought we were poor for 15 minutes but we rode our luck and were fortunate not to concede during that spell.”

Bower praised Sykes-Kenworthy, saying: “I thought our keeper put in a flawless performance.

“He was outstanding from start to finish.

“The back four worked ever so hard. Everyone put in a real shift.”