Paul Blake has likened Newcastle Eagles to David Moyes’ Manchester United, and says that their maturing team needs the help of the supporters to overcome Sheffield Sharks.
Eagles are gunning for their 18th final in a decade this Friday as they look to overturn a three-point deficit from the first leg of their BBL Cup semi-final against a strong-looking Sheffield side. It is a game to quicken the pulse but Eagles’ optimism must be measured against the inconsistency of this young and inexperienced side.
For Blake, the comparison with what is unfolding at Old Trafford is once again relevant. Fab Flournoy has often compared his team to Manchester United in the way that they were able to enjoy initial success and then build a legacy and the Eagles’ owner thinks that applies to a team that is clearly “in transition”.
“I think we look fine at the moment, we just need more time together. This has been the biggest transition of players that we have had for a long time,” Blake said.
“It is a bit like the whole David Moyes scenario at Manchester United. We would not just pack in what we’re trying to do at the moment because it doesn’t feel absolutely perfect at this point in time. Sometimes it takes a while to get things right. We’re in a transition period at the moment. Our senior players are probably at the back end of their careers, so maybe Fab is like Ryan Giggs and Charles (Smith) might be a Rio Ferdinand figure.
“Those players are absolutely key to what we’re doing but while we’re in a transition period we have to find a new crop of players who will be at the club for a very long time.”
Although the churn of players this season has been larger than usual, this is not the first time that the Eagles have attempted to build a new team with fresh and exciting talent. They picked up Smith and Darius Defoe after the dissolution of their first clean sweep team and they have both been integral to the Eagles’ trophy collecting exploits ever since.
There is a difference this time around however – namely that the BBL now has a lot more competitive teams in it.
Blake said: “We have been in this position a few times before but the difference here is that there are probably five teams competing for the title and maybe another two or three below them who are competitive as well. Look at Durham, they are definitely not a team that should be taken lightly this season.”
Sheffield Sharks would be included in that bracket and Blake is appealing for supporters to pack out Sport Central on Friday to try and help the Eagles into the final.
Newcastle’s crowd was in good voice when they took on Worcester Wolves earlier in the month – a game they won – and Blake wants to see a repeat of that performance from the Eagles’ public.
“It’s going to be a tough one because Sheffield are a very good team,” Blake said.
“I think they look very much like Leicester in the way they have lined up and how deep they are too.
“This is one of the strongest Sheffield teams for a few years and they have recruited well and have a good crop of young players who are almost coming through as seniors in their own right now. Look at (Demetrius) Jemison, who looks like a very astute recruit by Sheffield. He was with them last season and it took them a while to bring him back presumably because there was a chance that he would go elsewhere. But he’s with them now and he’s a good player.
“I think we have a very good team too, though, and I am sure that we can win this game. The crowd could be crucial, though: we need them to be as loud as they were against Worcester. That would help this team.”