OPTIMISM is back in fashion for Solent Stars despite the pain of a tenth straight defeat in the National Basketball League Conference.

The scoreline may have been the wrong one from an Eastleigh point of view, but nobody could complain about a lack of entertainment at Fleming Park as Stars surrendered an 11-point lead before bowing out to Manchester in an incident-packed finale.

Player-coach Mark Scott could not stay around to comment on a vastly improved Solent performance. He dashed straight off to hospital to have stitches in a nasty gash above the eye which, crucially, robbed Stars of his services for the last four minutes of the game.

Had he stayed, the outcome might have been different but, as Scott's predecessor Alan Cunningham reflected, those final exchanges were jam-packed with 'if onlys'.

Cunningham, making his first appearances on court since the opening game of the season, was quick to absolve Chris St Omer from shouldering the blame for defeat after he fluffed an incredibly easy lay-up when Stars were 103-100 adrift with 78 seconds remaining.

"Chris alone didn't lose us the game," said the big American. "Prior to that I'd missed a free throw, Chris Harper had missed a couple and those five points would have given us the lead.

"It's a pity we lost the game because we had got ourselves into a driving position and had forced Manchester into a couple of turnovers, but the guys should be proud of how they did tonight. It's the first time this whole year that they've played with intensity and you could see they were having fun out there."

Having helped push Stars into an early 15-8 lead, Cunningham fell awkwardly with three minutes of the first quarter remaining and hobbled off with a sprained ankle.

Lesser 46-year-olds would have thrown in the towel but, having watched Solent build up and then lose a nine-point second-quarter advantage, the never-say-die America miraculously reappeared after the break with Stars 46-44 adrift.

With Toby Tripalin then hitting 15-points Stars had carved out an even bigger lead, 71-60, by the seventh minute of the third quarter, but Manchester called a time-out, regrouped and hauled themselves back into the game to lead 79-75 by the buzzer.

A series of successful three-pointers against the home zone defence proved Solent's undoing in the final quarter - along with a superior display of marksmanship by Manchester from the free throw line. They sank six out of eight in the last minute while Solent mustered only a Tripalin three-pointer.

This Saturday Stars are back at Fleming Park to face league leaders Plymouth Raiders (8pm).