Paul Blake believes that winning the BBL title this year would be one of the biggest achievements in Newcastle Eagles’ storied recent history.
A weekend of twists and turns provided the perfect build-up to Friday’s clash between Fab Flournoy’s in-form Eagles and their closest challengers Sheffield Sharks at Sport Central.
Worcester Wolves are still in the title race as well, but the winners of Friday’s battle between two of the biggest clubs in the north will keep their desinty in their own hands – and in truth a victory for the home side will virtually guarantee they wrestle back the title.
After Friday, Eagles go to Surrey and Birmingham – two teams who have only won four times all season – which means that effectively a win all but guarantees them the title.
However, there is still the significant hurdle of a Sheffield side that have won most of their big games lately, and boast a recent win over the Eagles to boot.
“This is the one. These are two teams in really good form and it’s probably one of the biggest games we’ve ever played at Sport Central – certainly since 2011/12,” Blake said.
“It’s a massive game because we didn’t win anything last year and we’ve not won anything this year so far. This would be our sixth league title in 10 years if we get over the line – and that is still a big ‘if’ – but without question this has been the toughest.
“We have never been in a three-horse race before and it’s even potentially been a four-horse race, because Worcester are still around and they’re still fighting.
“They are a better team than their eight losses suggests. So it would be a really fantastic achievement if we manage to close it out.”
It would also be a ringing endorsement for the philosophy of Flournoy, who has coached a team put together by Dave Forrester immaculately.
There have been wobbles along the way – indeed after their close defeat in Sheffield it looked like they had blown it – but to have the title race in their own hands so close to the end of the season is a major achievement.
This is a different Eagles side as well: less reliant on one individual and with perhaps more balance than previous Newcastle incarnations under Flournoy.
“There is a real balance to this team. We had no one in the team of the week last week and a lot of our supporters were upset about it, but I saw it as actually a true reflection of one of the strengths of this team,” Blake said.
“We spread out the points and rebounds across the team, that spread is better than it has been for years.
“We are grinding it out as a team which is what we have needed to do this year to get us into the position that we are in. I know that there are still some things that Fab would like to iron out which haven’t been yet. We are a team that can go up big but can lose that lead relatively quickly, which is obviously not what a coach wants.
“Fab would like the defence to be a bit stronger because that is his mantra, but you can’t fault them really. We are there or thereabouts and that is through having that balance.”
As you would expect from a game of this magnitude, there has been plenty of interest from Eagles supporters ahead of the Friday night clash.
Blake expects to have sold around 2,000 tickets before the doors open on Friday and is anticipating an excellent atmosphere for one of the biggest games of the Flournoy era.
“I would strongly suggest to people that they get on to the website as early as they can if they want to reserve the best seats in the stands,” he said.
“We’ve had really terrific backing from the supporters recently and I think it has the potential to be a really special night. We have had more competitive games this year and I think that has shown in the crowds and also in the atmosphere at Sport Central this season.”
For more information about tickets, go to newcastle-eagles.com/schedule-and-tickets.