Newcastle Eagles will be hoping the new calendar year is decidedly more fruitful than 2013 after signing off a trophy-less 12 months with a defeat at London Lions to lose more valuable ground in the BBL title race.
Having failed to collect any silverware last season, Fab Flournoy and Co have moved on step closer making amends by booking a place in the BBL Cup Final next month, but the league crown looks more distant after a second defeat in three away games.
The Eagles are in danger of running out of wriggle room after posting a distinctly under-par display at the Copper Box Arena, very much reminiscent of their failure against Cheshire Phoenix at the start of December.
Despite Lions being soundly beaten by fellow challengers Sheffield and also hamstrung by the absence of their influential veteran Julius Joseph, the side from the capital thoroughly outplayed the visitors.
If playing on the Olympic Park was supposed to inspire, it had the opposite effect on the Eagles, who laboured for much of the contest with the exception of going nap during the second quarter when they amassed an impressive 33 points.
That helped them to claw back the deficit from a rotten first 15 minutes when they fell 29-16 behind to give the home team plenty of impetus, with Lions led by the expert hand of playmaker Rod Brown who proved to be the main tormentor.
When Charles Smith tied the game up at 45-45 shortly before the interval, it looked like the Eagles had shrugged off their indifferent start and could push home their advantage when the play resumed.
Scott Martin added credence to that notion when he converted a three-pointer to get is team rolling after the break, but it was the home team who went on to take control.
They surged 66-54 ahead and that meant real satisfaction for Eagles duo Perry Lawson and Joe Ikhinimwin who both enjoyed their outing against their ex-employers by delivering important cameo displays.
The Eagles huffed and puffed during the last ten minutes, but couldn’t find their defensive intensity or three-point shooting form, meaning they never looked like putting together a revival that would have potentially snatched an unlikely and undeserved victory.
Smith grabbed a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, but Martin was the only one to perform near the required standard by racking up an efficient 17-point haul to further enhance his burgeoning reputation.
Flournoy and his assistant Dave Forrester will perhaps take some solace that the wide-open nature of this years’ title race means all teams are going to find it hard to pick up victories on their travels, and the number of losses held by the eventual champions could be higher than usual.
But despite this, the duo will also know that their team should probably be doing better than harvesting one win from three league games on the road during December – a return that has ensured they have fallen onto the backfoot in the title shake-up.
ESH GROUP EAGLES NEWCASTLE: Martin 17, Cooke 16, Gause 15
LONDON LIONS: Brown 21, Sturt 19, Marks 17