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Season Review: Mersey Tigers

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Season Review: Mersey Tigers

It proved to be a difficult defence of their championship trophy for Mersey Tigers, as they missed out on the play-offs. Elliott Tunstall takes a look at their season with captain David Aliu.

Final Position: 10th
Season Record: Played – 30 Won 10 – Lost – 20
Points: 20
Play-Offs: Failed to qualify
Player of the Season: Myles Hesson

Much of the headlines surrounding Mersey Tigers on the eve of the season surrounded their well publicised financial problems, which saw captain Drew Sullivan leave the club just days before their first schedule game, against Sheffield Sharks, which was ultimately re-scheduled to a later date.

When they finally got on the court, their defence of the BBL Trophy ended with a whimper after failing to qualify from the group stages of the competition. Placed in a group with Sheffield Sharks and Cheshire Jets, Mersey managed only one victory out of four matches – that coming against Cheshire Jets, and while the Jets themselves managed just one win, their superior points difference saw them through.

Captain David Aliu gave an insight into possibly why the season had started so badly: “Losing Nate Reinking, James Jones and Drew Sullivan before the season did not help matters at all. We had a lot of good players and a great team but the players didn’t even know if the team was going to have a season because of the financial problems. The team couldn’t sign anyone and the players that were already here couldn’t afford to wait around and had to take offers when they got them.”

So while Reinking, Jones and Sullivan went off to Sheffield, Plymouth and Leicester respectively, the Tigers were looking to bounce back from their disappointing exit from the BBL Trophy as they hosted Glasgow Rocks in the opening game of the BBL Championship. The match never went to plan and Glasgow picked up a comfortable 92-62 victory.

Mersey’s uninspiring start to the season continued as they went on to lose their next three games. The first of those three matches was a BBL Cup match against Worcester Wolves and they were subsequently knocked out at the hands of Worcester, 91-62 the score. Tigers would then go on to lose league games against Worcester (97-79) and Leicester Riders (92-63).

Tony Garbelotto’s side managed to pick up their first win of the season at home to Durham Wildcats, 85-81 and followed that up with another victory – probably the most memorable of the season as the Tigers fought back from an unlikely fourth quarter deficit to force an overtime win – this time against Cheshire Jets (102-97) as Myles Hesson top scored with 26 points. After their poor start to the season, back to back successes were just the remedy for the early season blues Mersey fans and players had suffered.

Aliu spoke of his pride at playing for his hometown team: “I love playing in front of my family and friends on Merseyside. There is no better part of the season than that because it feels like I am giving something back.”

Worcester Wolves inflicted a third defeat in three games against Mersey Tigers with a 93-84 as Mersey’s up and down season early season form continued. In December, Mersey faced Newcastle Eagles for the first time in the 2011/2012 season and, although both sides had battled it out for the league last year, there was only one winner this time as Newcastle, fronted by 31 points from Darius Defoe, led from start to finish seeing out a comprehensive 94-80 victory.

A Mike Martin-inspired Guildford Heat picked up their first win of the BBL season against Mersey in mid-December, coming out narrowly 82-76 winners. The Tigers finished the year of 2011 with another defeat as Plymouth Raiders made the long trip south worthless for Mersey, the Raiders picking up a 102-82 win.

It was five and then six defeats in a row as Mersey’s miserable form didn’t look like ending. An 87-80 defeat to Milton Keynes Lions preceded another defeat to Plymouth Raiders, who secured a 101-84 victory and made sure Mersey’s trip back North had plenty of talking points. Worcester Wolves spoiled David Aliu’s 100th appearance for the Mersey Tigers as they arrived at Knowsley Leisure & Culture Park and left with two points after an 82-61 win.

An 8th straight victory followed for Mersey as Leicester Riders were victorious 85-66 but this would signal the end of a torrid run for the Tigers. A win didn’t look like arriving for Mersey but their luck changed when they made the trip to Glasgow.  An excellent away win against Glasgow Rocks (89-75) was followed up by a valiant effort against Newcastle. The Eagles won comfortably but Mersey battled all the way through and gave a good account of themselves.

February started with a derby defeat for Mersey, losing out to Cheshire Jets 83-72 in a high tempo match. The Tigers bounced back with a super win at Guildford Heat, Coach Garbelotto’s boys keeping themselves in the hunt for a play-off place by defeating Heat 82-77 away from home.

Home form continue to disappoint for Mersey as Plymouth raided Merseyside for all two points with a 83-73 but the Tigers made it two away wins out of two as they travelled to bottom side Durham Wildcats and came away with a win, defeating the side from the North East.

Now into the business end of the season, Mersey Tigers played seven matches in March. The Tigers started the month well, defeating Sheffield Sharks 79-71 before embarking on a run of four straight defeats at the worst possible time of the season. Defeats to Sheffield in the return fixtures (99-82), MK Lions (81-78), Guildford Heat (83-75) and another derby defeat to Cheshire Jets, this time 84-79.

This run of form ruled them out of a place in the play-offs regardless of the results of their remaining matches. This was unfortunate for Mersey as they finished the month of March with two victories; 85-74 against Sheffield Sharks, who they faced for the third time in the same month and 86-56 against BBL league whipping boys Durham Wildcats.

Mersey Tigers closed the season out with two wins and two defeats in the month of April. An eye-catching win over eventual quadruple champions Newcastle Eagles (82-74) coupled with another 94-86 win over MK Lions meant that there was something to cheer for Mersey fans at the climax of the season but defeats to Leicester Riders 83-70 and Glasgow Rocks 81-79 on the final day of the league season reminded them of the troubled season they had suffered.

David Aliu gave his verdict on his player of the season: “For me it was Myles Hesson. He was the most consistent and in a team that was always changed he only missed one game all season.

“It was a tough season. There were constantly obstacles in the way all the changes in the summer didn’t help either. I suffered a few injuries as well which didn’t help. It has never been a hidden fact that we are in financial trouble and the next two years are all about rebuilding. We need to attract sponsors and do more work in the community. I don’t think we will be challenging for titles in the next few years it will be all about getting together a team that is competitive.”

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