The slate has been wiped clean and it’s a whole new ball game for Esh Group Eagles Newcastle as they head in to the BBL End of Season Play-Offs, writes Jeff King. After a largely disappointing and frustrating regular season, the Eagles have one last chance to lift some silverware.
Finishing third in the standings and not even reaching the semi-finals of either knock-out competition was not what was expected of an exciting looking Eagles side back in the heady days of pre-season September.
But, that’s what happened and now they are looking to put that behind them and gear up for the last few weeks of a long season by snatching Play-Off glory.
The first obstacle standing in their way is a Bristol Flyers side who achieved their best ever BBL placing of sixth in their fourth season in the league. However, they go in as vast underdogs against Newcastle having lost all three league encounters this season and all sixteen games they’ve played against Fab Flournoy’s sides in that time.
The first leg is at Northumbria University Sport Central tonight, tip-off 7:30pm with the return leg down in Bristol on Sunday afternoon at 3:30pm.
Captain Darius Defoe who has returned to the side in recent weeks following injury is in no doubt as to the importance and significance of the Play-Off tie having experienced many such occasions in his Eagles career.
“It was a disappointing regular season but now at the end of the day it’s play-off time. We have to draw a line under the regular season and start concentrating on the play-offs right now and put everything else behind us.”
As for the first opposition, Bristol, Defoe is not taking anything for granted or looking at past records as he prepares for tonight’s game.
“Nothing in the past matters. This is the play-offs and you never know what’s going to happen. We just have to concentrate on ourselves, be ready and look to get the job done. Bristol are a solid all-round side and you have to concentrate on everyone.”
“However, you’re guarding in their team is a threat so our job as a team is to restrict them and make sure you’re stopping your man from scoring and makes sure we get it done.”
Defoe has been coming nicely back in to form and fitness but confesses he’s still a long way from being 100%.
“I wouldn’t say I was fully fit but I’m getting there. At the end of the day I’m trying my best to help my team-mates and come tonight, and Sunday do whatever I can to make sure we go through.”
This is an Eagles side largely inexperienced in BBL Play-Off situations and two-legged games. Defoe knows his team will be looking to the likes of Flournoy, Drew Lasker and himself to help them through the experience.
“The mood in the camp is good. We’ve had a good week of practice and we’ve talked to the guys about what’s coming up. They understand, and they’re determined to be ready. They know it’s play-off time and we’re all trying to get to the O2 and win the whole thing.”
“I’m confident that we’re ready for the game and I’m confident we can get the win and move on to the semi-finals next weekend, but we have to be ready, be together and be focused to achieve that.”