Birmingham Panthers coach Nigel Lloyd has admitted his struggling side need to learn from tonight’s visit to the trophy-chasing Eagles. The Barbadian, whose biggest pal in the game is Eagles play-caller Fab Flournoy, arrives on Tyneside for a David-versus-Goliath battle with his club besieged by on and off-court problems.

With the Panthers rumoured to be in deep financial trouble, it is proving to be a catastrophic first season for the fledgling franchise, who are rock-bottom of the BBL table. Nevertheless, a determined Lloyd is hoping his players can use the experience to find out what it takes to be potential title-winners.

‘It’s good for our players to play against a top team, and see the level they need to be at to play against a BBL Cup finalist,’ he said. ‘Having seen the Eagles, their defence has really picked up recently. To hold Rocks to 69 in a semi-final shows that they are a good defensive team.’

‘They are a little bigger and more athletic on the defensive end since (Richard) Midgley went and, although they’ve lost a bit offensively, they still have plenty of weapons that can cause problems for us. We’ll try to spread them across the floor and make them run, and see what we can do.’

If the Eagles pick up the win that everyone expects, they can regain their status as league leaders and overtake Milton Keynes Lions. However, with an injury-hit squad and the potential of surprise from the Panthers, Flournoy isn’t taking anything for granted.

‘They are well coached by Nigel Lloyd, Clive Allen and Paul Douglas. They’re a young team trying to get their situation sorted out on and off the court, and they’ll come in and play hard,’ he said. ‘Rob Paternostro and Adam Williams are playing extremely well. Rob’s doing a good job of steadying the ship and Adam’s putting up the points – so we need to watch out for both of them.’

‘They have a lot of young English talent, and they work hard. I don’t know too much else about them as it’s the first time we’ve played them. I do know they’ve had a couple of victories, and we need to make sure we don’t slip up against them. We need to play smart and play together.’

It is likely that Flournoy will give his young bench plenty of minutes tonight if his side can build an early lead, and that could mean extended minutes for Wil Spragg, Aaron Nielsen and Brian McCotter. With Jeremy Hyatt not likely to be risked even if a scan reveals only limited damage to his troublesome knee, Flournoy will seek to rest his senior players as much as possible.

The Eagles player-coach will be aware that another knockout competition begins in just seven days’ time, when the Eagles tip-off their BBL Trophy campaign with away at Everton against old boy Richard Midgley.