Newcastle Eagles go into tonight’s sold-out game against Manchester Giants at the Vertu Motors Arena knowing only a win can keep their hopes of qualifying for the BBL Cup quarter finals alive.
Even then they will still need Glasgow to beat Cheshire at the same time to remain in the hunt to retain a trophy they won in dramatic style against London Lions last season back in January. If both results go Newcastle’s way it’ll lead to a winner-takes-all clash in Cheshire on Sunday.
Head Coach Ian MacLeod is more than aware of the situation as he prepares to return to the side lines for tonight’s clash after missing last weekend’s two defeats at Sheffield and Glasgow owing to COVID-19 protocols.
He spoke about the task ahead but also reflected on how he felt having to watch his side from afar last week and his feelings on their performance in both games. It was certainly two games where Newcastle faced adversity.
“It was extremely frustrating of course having to watch and feeling powerless to help. The fight the guys showed in their performances filled me with pride, however. I thought we were in with a good shot of winning both games.”
Given the circumstances of both games with the protocols the Eagles had to follow and then picking up injuries to Rahmon Fletcher and Kyle Williams which prevented them playing in Glasgow it was a heroic effort from the short-handed roster.
Now they face an equally tough weekend that could all come down to a huge game on Sunday. But as usual MacLeod is only focusing his task and that of his team on tonight’s game.
“It could set up a ‘winner takes all’ type scenario on Sunday but we have another game to battle through before then. We also need a little help from Glasgow to beat Cheshire tonight. Right now, the focus is to get back to work and make sure we are as prepared as possible.”
“Cheshire have their problems and will be without Mike Ochereobia for this weekend. I have to give huge credit to Mike the way he has developed in the last couple of years.”
“He is a player with incredible strength who is happy to fight and claw and do all the less ‘glamorous’ things, as he always has been. But now he is starting to score as well. Any team would miss a player like that.”
MacLeod gave an assessment of the current situation surrounding his squad prior to tonight’s game.
“Firstly, all coaches will be back on the side-line, and we will look to build on the stellar work Gary has done in our stead. Kyle and Fletch are touch and go for the weekend, we will have to see closer to the time.”
“Due to procedures and isolations, we will essentially be running with the same roster again but with some youth players in support. I have to stress that being released from isolation is not ‘job done’ and full steam ahead.”
“COVID takes its toll and I know even for me it will be a process of building things back up, so for the players we must ensure we do not put too much in them too quickly. Their health has to come first.”
Manchester are on a great run and come into the game top of the BBL Cup North Group with all their starting five averaging double figures so far this season. It’s going to be another difficult game for Newcastle.
“They are a well-balanced team with some good athletes. I expect them to be very competitive throughout the season. I thought we let the game slip at their place which was a real opportunity for us. But we will be fighting on Friday for the win to hopefully set us up for Sunday.”
Tip-off at the Vertu Motors Arena will be at 7:30pm when both sides will run out to a sold-out crowd.