Lynch optimism remains foggy on Tyne
It has been up and down on Tyneside this season, a bumpy ride rather than a rollercoaster one for the Toon Army. Even though the Eagles failed to pick up any silverware last year, the excitement and genuine promise of the team was self-evident. By contrast, the Newcastle team which sits in mid-season, mid-table anonymity has suffered in comparison to its predecessor in spite of a reasonable on court record.
Head Coach Craig Lynch's task at the tiller of Newcastle's barge has not been helped by negative vibes surrounding the departure of the respected Peter Scantlebury, criticism from the Geordie media, and sniping from former star Leon McGee. Water off a duck's back maybe, but how does Lynch himself rate the progress of his black and white army so far ?
"We're hanging on in there at the moment," admits Lynch (pictured right). "We're not playing as well as we could, but after a poor start, we're OK. I feel that we are poised to pounce and if results go our way, we can move up into the top four. We've been winning even when we haven't been playing well but I'd rather be playing well and winning more comfortably."
"At present, we're too soft which concerns me. We need to be tougher and we've had some big leads which we've let slip. I keep emphasising to my guys that they need to concentrate over 40 minutes."
Although at least three of Newcastle's line up are on schedule to turn out on home soil for February's All-Star Game, individual inconsistency has been the one true constant of the Eagles' season. Only Ralph Blalock seems to have truly shined night after night but others have dropped in and out of the starting line up. A case of indecision or tactical planning by the playcaller ? Lynch puts up a convincing case for the latter.
"We've been varying our starting line up and that can be a positive thing. The main thing the players are concerned about is getting minutes, so whether they start or not, they just want to play."
"Chris Fite has some big games in him right now but he needs other players to step up to help him. Same with Scott Wilke. We need extra from him. You always have to keep your bench happy in order to keep the competition up in practice and in games. It's one of the toughest parts of being a coach but I believe you have to go with your best guys and if you bring someone in off the bench, it has to improve on the group you already have out on court."
Jokes Lynch, "I think Mike Finger had it made with only five players. It must have made his job easy!"
Eagles are still heading for the Uniball Trophy quarter finals with a potentially promising trip to Derby and remain steadfastly in the group of teams contesting every spot from third downwards in the league. Most disappointing was the calamitous exit at the penultimate hurdle in the Sainsbury's Classic Cola Cup, a 18 point lead inexcusably squandered. Nonetheless, Lynch retains a cautious optimism for the rest of the campaign.
"The team made the semi-finals in the Cup, which was an improvement on last year where we lost in the first round. I want to finish as high as possible, preferably fourth or higher so we can have two matches at Newcastle in the play offs. Right now we have to win some game to ensure we stay away from the play off battle. Edinburgh have five game in hand, Chester, Leicester, Milton Keynes can all make a run and hit teams on their night.
With the transfer deadline on January 31, Newcastle's General Manager Ken Nottage is one executive for whom the quick presentation of the chequebook is unlikely. His coaching supremo is happy with the men he has and with young star Gavin Bethel showing glimpses of his exciting future, Eagles potential seems better than their win-loss record.
"I think technically now, we're a lot better than last year. This group of players have a better understanding of what I want from them. Leon (McGee) and Rob (Phelps) were excellent players but I look at us as having improved as a team. I'd have liked to have brought back Mark Boyd, but he turned down our offer and we brought Corey Jackson in as a replacement."
"I have a good contingent of English players and for someone else to come in now and get to know our system would be difficult. If we win some games, we can some some confidence into the side and make a challenge for Wembley."
For all Eagles' successes in drawing supporters into the Telewest Arena and setting the club on a sound financial and commercial footing, nothing could give basketball in north east England a greater fillip than to inscribe the Sporting Club's name on an item of trophyware. With 1999 looking like the year of the North in British basketball, maybe Lynch will have his day come May.
Copyright Britball. Download is subject to Britball's Terms of Service.