JUST how valuable will Lee Novak’s 12th goal in Town colours prove to be?
The answer over his dramatic winner against Walsall is still to become clear, but one thing about the striker is certain – he won’t be happy to sit on his current tally.
The 21-year-old Geordie admits his first season at Football League level has gone better than he could ever have believed.
But as he closes in on a second play-off experience in as many seasons, Novak has unfinished business.
This time last year, he was preparing for Gateshead’s successful bid to overcome Southport, in a two-legged semi-final, then AFC Telford, to book the Blue Square Premier place they could lose today.
Novak will no doubt be checking on the fate of his former club, who are a point adrift in the relegation places ahead of their home clash with AFC Wimbledon.
But first and foremost in his thoughts will be helping Town collect the victory at Stockport County which would give them a huge push towards the play-offs, and if Colchester United fail to beat visitors Tranmere Rovers, seal their place.
These are certainly exciting times for the former Gretna and Newcastle Blue Star player, who is looking to be a snip at the £150,000 Town have paid Gateshead in three installments (£50,000 initial, then the same after 15 and 30 appearances).
Six weeks ago, he feared his season might be over after sustaining a knee injury during the 3-1 Galpharm defeat by Norwich City.
But now he’s out to get closer to a goal target he refuses to specify – and help Town reach the Championship.
“It’s been an unbelievable season, but we’ve achieved nothing yet and there’s still a lot of hard work ahead,” said the man who hopes for a 30th start and 42nd appearance in all at Edgeley Park today.
“I must admit I feared the worst after the injury, and to come back so quick (he missed five matches) was a huge boost for myself and a sign of the great work done by (physiotherapist) Dave Buckby and (performance coach) Steve Black.
“I’ve made two appearances off the bench in two amazing games against Walsall then Millwall, and winning them both has been massive for us.”
Town had surrendered a two-goal lead against 10-man opposition when Novak replaced Jordan Rhodes 76 minutes into the Walsall match.
Within seven minutes, they found themselves trailing before Antony Kay’s 90th-minute equaliser paved the way for Novak to fire home and seal a 4-3 win three minutes into stoppage time.
“It was fantastic to clinch the three points, and that goal is right up there along with the one against Leeds United at Elland Road,” he explained.
“It was a crazy game and a mad 20 minutes for me, because I thought I was going to get sent off just seconds after coming on (Novak felled Town old boy Dwayne Mattis and was relieved to see a yellow rather than straight red card).
“I was pretty pumped up and hadn’t quite got into the rhythm of the game, and I’m so glad the referee gave me the benefit of the doubt on that one.
“With it being 2-2 when I came on I was thinking in terms of a 3-2 win for us, and I think all the lads were stunned when they scored again.
“But it showed the kind of character and spirit we have within this squad that we managed to fight our way back into the game and end up winning it.
“As nervy as that game was, I thought the lads were excellent against Millwall, playing some good football to go one up then defending strong against a very good side, and I was pleased to be able to make a contribution (this time he came on for Rhodes after 63 minutes).
“Now we have to reproduce that kind of form and continue to hold our nerve, first just to make the play-offs, then hopefully to do well in them.
“As I said, nothing’s settled yet, and we certainly won’t be taking anything for granted at Stockport or in any other game.”
On his own position, Novak added: “I just want to continue developing, because while I’ve come on in leaps and bounds, you never stop learning.
“I’ve had some terrific coaching from the manager and his staff, and you really feel like you’re picking up something new in every training session.
“I’ve also had some terrific help from the rest of the players, who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome.
“There are some great strikers here in Jordan Rhodes, Theo Robinson and Robbie Simpson, and I must admit, when I first got here, I thought I’d be fourth in line.
“But the manager immediately got me out of that mindset, and the likes of Peter Clarke, Antony Kay and Gary Roberts have been great in helping me along.
“To think I’ve played more than 40 games is amazing, and while 12 goals is above what I thought I could get before the season began, I’ve set a new target now, although I’ll keep it to myself.”