Newcastle Eagles WBBL1712161459
Sheffield Hatters24202216

Former Team Northumbria favourite Nicolette Fong Lyew Quee came back to haunt her former franchise as the Sheffield Hatters star lit up the Vertu Motors Arena.

Newcastle head coach Noelia Cacheiro’s dream of a perfect home debut was shattered by one of the WBBL’s most consistent performers.

And the Eagles had no answer to Fong Lyew Quee’s near-perfect eight from nine shooting from two-point range as the GB playmaker led all scorers with 22.

But there were plenty of positives from  Cacheiro’s new-look Newcastle ahead of next weekend’s trip to expansion franchise Gloucester City Queens.

New head coach Cacheiro can take lots of positives from her first home game in charge. (Photo: Dave Moore)

Layne Murphy marked an impressive home debut with a double double of 11 points and 10 boards.

And Dora Cipcic’s never-say-die attitude won warm applause from the appreciative home fans — the popular Croat falling one point short of her own double double.

Yet again injured duo Rachael Bland and Jessica Eadsforth-Yates were forced to watch on from the sidelines.

And that meant another starting five spot for January recruit Murphy with coach Cacheiro predicting big things for the powerful forward.

The Newcastle University student dominated the boards at Essex seven days earlier without discovering her scoring touch.

But Murphy headed into a long-awaited home debut determined to make her presence felt at both ends of the court.

Another starter demanding attention was Sheffield’s Ebony Horton as the new face in the Hatters back court returned to Tyneside for the first time since quitting Newcastle in January.

The all-action guard completed her brief spell in black and white as the Eagles’ leading scorer.

And after receiving a warm welcome from the Vertu Motors Arena crowd, Horton wasted no time in reminding the homecourt fans what they’ve been missing.

The 22-year-old covered every inch of Newcastle’s floor during the first half on her way to 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

And although Horton chalked up two fouls, her all-round contribution was key to Sheffield’s 44-29 first half lead.

The Eagles had started the game the stronger of the two teams on the back of diligent defence and smart offence.

Cacheiro’s side fully deserved their 15-6 lead midway through the first quarter with skipper Marina Fernandez at the forefront of a spirited effort.

But the Hatters sit third in the WBBL Championship table for a reason and Sheffield’s trademark aggression gradually took its toll on short-handed Newcastle.

With head coach Vanessa Ellis venting her frustration from the sidelines, the visitors launched a game-changing 18-0 tear.

And despite two last-gasp Cipcic free throws, the Eagles trailed 24-17 after a free-scoring first quarter.

Horton and Fong Lyew Quee turned the screw after the restart to keep Newcastle at arm’s length.

But the hosts refused to be overrun with Chloe Gaynor and Maddy McVicar both making smart offensive plays.

Chloe Gaynor picked up the Eagles MVP in the game with a near double-double and impressive at both ends of the court. (Photo and Featured Image: Abbie Orwin)

Gaynor finished the half with 11 points and five boards but the Eagles’ tireless centre would have to up her game again if the women in black were to mount a sustained second half comeback.

Three fouls inside 11 minutes had limited the first half contribution of Hatters’ star performer Georgia Gayle.

But the WBBL’s third top scorer was back to start the second half and the GB international fired Sheffield 50-34 in front 90 seconds into the third quarter.

Newcastle were finally winning the battle under the boards with Cipcic, Gaynor and Fernandez refusing to give an inch in the paint.

And McVicar was still finding space at the offensive end as the US guard moved to 12 points.

Maddy McVicar played all bar one minute of the game as the key to our Eagles offence. (Photo: Dave Moore)

But the Hatters’ consistent shooting ensured the visitors were never in danger of surrendering their double-digit advantage.

And the Eagles trailed 66-45 heading into the fourth quarter with the machine-like McVicar on court for every one of the previous 30 minutes.

Sheffield edged a tight final period 16-14 but Cacheiro must have seen enough to believe Newcastle can snap their four-game losing streak at Gloucester on Saturday.