Eagles chief Paul Blake predicts a wide open title race

Paul Blake is predicting the most open BBL title race in years after several of the division’s top guns misfired in the first week of the season

Esh Group Eagles chief Paul Blake
Esh Group Eagles chief Paul Blake

Paul Blake is predicting the most open BBL title race in years after several of the division’s top guns misfired in the first week of the season.

Blake’s Newcastle Eagles were beaten at previously winless Plymouth Raiders while current champions Leicester Riders have also suffered a loss. Surprise package Worcester Wolves have made the early running with three straight wins although Glasgow Rocks, who have only played once, also look strong.

Blake is not overly concerned about Eagles’ defeat, which came with the team still gelling and injuries affecting two of their key players, but he does feel it is a sign of things to come in the league.

“I think it will be a couple of weeks before people really work out which teams are going to be the forces this season,” he said.

“It’s hard to say whether we’ll look back and really rue that defeat but I think Plymouth are a better team than their record going into the game on Sunday showed. I think we have certainly got more than one tough opponent to contend with this season. It does look like an open championship.

“There’s a few I can think of already – Leicester, Worcester, Sheffield, Glasgow and Plymouth all look strong. London are a bit of an unknown and they were doing well until the defeat at Durham.

“But then Durham are a really good example of how the division has changed this season because they are a strong team. That team is a huge step up on where they were last season and that is good to see from a league perspective, even if it makes our job that bit harder.”

Eagles’ exciting new-look team were beaten at Plymouth in a thrilling contest that spun back and forth on Sunday. Ultimately they probably paid the price of some inaccurate shooting, but Blake feels there were mitigating circumstances.

Charles Smith’s ankle injury has given him problems since pre-season while Fab Flournoy is also struggling with his fitness. He made his debut in the second game of the season against Cheshire but is still feeling his way back in the heat of the competition.

“You don’t like to use anything like that as an excuse but I think it did have a bearing in Plymouth,” Blake said.

“I think with Charles in particular his ankle is where he gets a lot of his elevation. When that isn’t there it makes every shot that bit more difficult for him and I think you could see that in the statistics at Plymouth.

“I’m not overly concerned about the defeat at Plymouth. I still think this is a really exciting team and I think that when they gel and get a few more games under their belt you really will see an exciting team.

“It’s very quick but the chemistry probably needs a bit of work and that comes with games. At one point on Sunday we were ten points up and really looked like a force to be reckoned with but we have lost a similar lead twice now because we did it against Durham.

“That really is the sort of thing that comes with games.”

An early defeat in a season where there might not be one clear front-runner might actually be turned to the Eagles’ advantage, according to Blake.

“It sounds like a funny thing to say when you’ve lost but sometimes you need to drop a game to really reinforce minds,” the Eagles owner said. “Had we gone there and won it might have papered over a few of the issues that needed ironing out so I’m sure Fab and Dave (Forrester) will be looking at those things this week.

“There are probably one or two lessons to be learned and when the chemistry improves I think we will be a really good team. You can see what we’re trying to do this year and there’s a lot of talent there.

“I really do think it will be one of those seasons where the rival teams pick each other off. It is up to us to make sure we’re in among it by the end of the season.”

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