Cambridge United returned to the Football League for the first time in nine years by beating Gateshead in the Conference Premier final at Wembley.

Ryan Donaldson, who left the Heed for the U's last summer, provided the cross for Liam Hughes to head in after the break and then curled home a free-kick.

Gateshead struggled to turn possession into chances, until Jack Lester headed into an empty net to get one back.

Liam Hatch and James Curtis nodded wide in injury time but the U's held on.

The U's nine years in non-league

  • 2013-14: 2nd - promoted via play-offs
  • 2012-13: 14th
  • 2011-12: 9th
  • 2010-11: 17th
  • 2009-10: 10th
  • 2008-09: 2nd - lost in play-off final
  • 2007-08: 2nd - lost in play-off final
  • 2006-07: 17th
  • 2005-06: 12th

It was only last season that Newcastle-born Donaldson scored eight times for Gateshead, but he consigned his former club to a 55th year outside of the Football League.

Cambridge, meanwhile, can sympathise with their opponents, having lost at this stage in 2008 and 2009 in their attempts to end their exile in non-league.

The experience of winning the FA Trophy at Wembley back in March would have no doubt helped the U's on the big occasion, but they had to end a 14-game unbeaten run by the Tynesiders.

Both sides were limited to long-range efforts in the early stages, with Donaldson hitting a half-volley that was saved by Adam Bartlett, a former Cambridge player whose only appearance came in the 2009 play-off final defeat.

The Heed were fortunate to not be two men down when Marcus Maddison, already booked for diving, broke up a U's counter-attack on the halfway line, before John Oster looked to have swung a boot at Kevin Roberts.

Gateshead went on to dominate first-half possession, but the closest they came was when Maddison's looping cross dropped wide of the back post.

Cambridge United score against Gateshead

Liam Hughes scored Cambridge's first goal in the Wembley final

The introduction of substitute Harrison Dunk at half-time injected pace into the U's attack and the winger's 35-yard drive had to be tipped round the post by Bartlett.

That produced a pair of corners, with the second taken short and then whipped in by Donaldson and nodded home by academy product Hughes.

Donaldson then swung a perfectly placed 20-yard free-kick around the wall and past Bartlett to seemingly put Cambridge into League Two.

But the introduction of towering frontman Hatch gave the Heed a target man, and although he saw a header saved, former Chesterfield striker Lester, who came out of retirement three months ago, put in the rebound.

Gateshead threw everything forward, with James Marwood forcing a finger-tip save from Adam Smith and, with seven minutes of added time played following an injury to U's captain Ian Miller, Hatch and Curtis both had chances, but Richard Money's Cambridge side held out to secure promotion.

Cambridge United manager Richard Money: "Relieved would be the strongest feeling.

"It is the best way to go up. Having won the FA Trophy as well, what was half-a-good season has suddenly been an incredible season.

"I think you can see how important it is from the supporters' reaction today. We brought terrific numbers. Nine years out of the League is a long time.

"There is a stigma about being a non-league club, from people who don't really understand the level. But the fact you can now call yourself a Football League club and the players can call themselves Football League players means an incredible amount."

Gateshead manager Gary Mills: "We've done superbly well. We worked hard and the mental side can drain you.

"But we kept going and we didn't quite finish it off.

"We're gutted of course. You get an opportunity of 90 minutes of football to get Gateshead back into the Football League and we didn't quite do it.

"So it's difficult to take at the moment but you have to bounce back. It's not all happy days. You have to be stronger for it."

Lineup, Bookings (5) & Substitutions (6)

Cambridge United

  • 25 Smith
  • 02 Roberts
  • 03 Taylor
  • 18 Berry (Chadwick - 65' )
  • 06 Miller
  • 04 Coulson
  • 08 Champion Booked
  • 07 Donaldson
  • 17 Hughes
  • 19 Sam-Yorke (Dunk - 45' )
  • 10 Elliott (Cunnington - 76' Booked )

Substitutes

  • 05 Bonner
  • 09 Cunnington
  • 11 Dunk
  • 22 Chadwick
  • 23 Chambers

Gateshead

  • 01 Bartlett
  • 02 Magnay
  • 16 Baxter
  • 08 Turnbull
  • 05 Curtis
  • 06 Clark Booked
  • 04 Chandler (Lester - 69' )
  • 25 Maddison Booked (O'Donnell - 58' )
  • 07 Larkin (Hatch - 58' )
  • 29 Oster Booked
  • 18 Marwood

Substitutes

  • 09 Hatch
  • 17 Walker
  • 19 Lester
  • 21 Ramshaw
  • 38 O'Donnell
Ref: Peter Banks
Att: 19,613

Match Stats

Shots

8 17

On target

7 5

Corners

0 0

Fouls

9 6

Live Text Commentary

+11:00 Full time

Full Time Match ends, Cambridge United 2, Gateshead 1.

90:00 +10:00 Full time

Full Time Second Half ends, Cambridge United 2, Gateshead 1.

90:00 +9:07

Attempt missed. James Curtis (Gateshead) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Craig Baxter with a cross.

90:00 +5:40

Attempt missed. Liam Hatch (Gateshead) header from a difficult angle on the right misses to the right. Assisted by JJ O'Donnell with a cross.

90:00 +5:07

Attempt blocked. Phillip Turnbull (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

86:50 Booking

Booking Adam Cunnington (Cambridge United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

86:22

Attempt blocked. James Marwood (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

85:56

Attempt blocked. Harrison Dunk (Cambridge United) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

83:52

Foul by Adam Cunnington (Cambridge United).

83:52

Phillip Turnbull (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

82:34

Foul by Ian Miller (Cambridge United).

82:34

Liam Hatch (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

82:01

Attempt missed. Liam Hatch (Gateshead) header from the right side of the box is too high. Assisted by JJ O'Donnell.

81:49

Corner, Gateshead.

81:28

Attempt blocked. James Marwood (Gateshead) left footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked.

81:11

Corner, Gateshead.

79:36

Attempt saved. Jack Lester (Gateshead) header from the right side of the box is saved. Assisted by JJ O'Donnell with a cross.

79:17 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Cambridge United 2, Gateshead 1. Jack Lester (Gateshead) header from a difficult angle on the left to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Liam Hatch with a headed pass.

76:00 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cambridge United. Adam Cunnington replaces Tom Elliott.

75:38

Attempt missed. Liam Hatch (Gateshead) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by JJ O'Donnell with a cross.

74:37

Attempt saved. Carl Magnay (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is saved.

73:00

Attempt saved. Harrison Dunk (Cambridge United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved.

70:31 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Cambridge United 2, Gateshead 0. Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) from a free kick with a right footed shot to the bottom right corner.

69:35 Booking

Booking Ben Clark (Gateshead) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

69:28

Foul by Ben Clark (Gateshead).

69:28

Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

69:02

Foul by Tom Elliott (Cambridge United).

69:02

Ben Clark (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

68:24 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Gateshead. Jack Lester replaces Jamie Chandler.

66:44

Attempt missed. John Oster (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is too high.

64:43 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cambridge United. Luke Chadwick replaces Luke Berry.

64:27

Foul by Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United).

64:27

Craig Baxter (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

60:13

Attempt saved. Tom Elliott (Cambridge United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved.

58:34

Foul by Carl Magnay (Gateshead).

58:34

Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

57:25 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Gateshead. Liam Hatch replaces Colin Larkin.

57:14 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Gateshead. JJ O'Donnell replaces Marcus Maddison.

56:57

Attempt missed. Marcus Maddison (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.

53:52

Corner, Cambridge United.

53:15

Corner, Cambridge United.

50:40 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Cambridge United 1, Gateshead 0. Liam Hughes (Cambridge United) header from a difficult angle on the left to the top left corner. Assisted by Ryan Donaldson with a cross.

50:22

Corner, Cambridge United.

49:48

Corner, Cambridge United.

49:29

Attempt saved. Harrison Dunk (Cambridge United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved.

48:44

Foul by Kevin Roberts (Cambridge United).

48:44

James Marwood (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

47:49

Attempt saved. James Marwood (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is saved.

45:22

Foul by Liam Hughes (Cambridge United).

45:22

Carl Magnay (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

45:00 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cambridge United. Harrison Dunk replaces Delano Sam-Yorke.

45:00

Second Half begins Cambridge United 0, Gateshead 0.

45:00 +2:02 Half time

Half Time First Half ends, Cambridge United 0, Gateshead 0.

43:14

Offside, Gateshead. Jamie Chandler tries a through ball, but Jamie Chandler is caught offside.

35:52

Offside, Cambridge United. Tom Elliott tries a through ball, but Tom Elliott is caught offside.

32:17

Foul by Tom Elliott (Cambridge United).

32:17

Ben Clark (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

31:44

Attempt missed. James Marwood (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.

29:56

Corner, Gateshead.

26:13

Attempt saved. Jamie Chandler (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box is saved.

24:16

Foul by Marcus Maddison (Gateshead).

24:16

Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

22:43 Booking

Booking John Oster (Gateshead) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

22:36

Foul by John Oster (Gateshead).

22:36

Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

19:58 Booking

Booking Tom Champion (Cambridge United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

19:51

Foul by Tom Champion (Cambridge United).

19:51

Marcus Maddison (Gateshead) wins a free kick.

19:35

Attempt saved. Luke Berry (Cambridge United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved.

17:24

Attempt missed. James Marwood (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right.

16:41

Hand ball by Delano Sam-Yorke (Cambridge United).

13:44

Attempt missed. James Marwood (Gateshead) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.

8:33

Corner, Cambridge United.

6:23 Booking

Booking Marcus Maddison (Gateshead) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

6:20

Foul by Marcus Maddison (Gateshead).

6:20

Tom Champion (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

2:37

Corner, Cambridge United.

2:19

Attempt saved. Ryan Donaldson (Cambridge United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved.

0:14

Foul by Marcus Maddison (Gateshead).

0:14

Tom Champion (Cambridge United) wins a free kick.

0:00

First Half begins.

0:00

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.

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