COVENTRY overcame Belle Vue 47-43 in the Elite League at Brandon on Friday in what will surely go down as the match of the season.
The drawn encounter between the sides in Manchester earlier in the week had been a thriller, but even that was eclipsed by a return fixture which had absolutely everything with drama, controversy and some truly stunning racing.
When the visitors took a two-point lead into the final three races they were clear favourites to go on and win - but the Buildbase Bees never gave up, and skipper Chris Harris and Finnish ace Joonas Kylmakorpi combined for a blockbusting 5-1 over Aces’ No.1 Matej Zagar in the finale to take Coventry over the line.
And having secured five league points compared to Belle Vue’s two over the week, Bees have a comfortable margin over the Aces in the race for the play-offs - although the men from Kirky Lane are still strongly placed in fourth, with Coventry now five points clear at the top (albeit Poole do have four matches in hand) and 21 ahead of fifth-placed Swindon.
It was a meeting of twists and turns with Belle Vue going away having taken nine of the fifteen heat wins, but they crucially ran ten last places.
Two of the biggest names in the match, Hans Andersen for the Bees and Scott Nicholls for the Aces, scored just three points between them to underline the unforgiving nature of the Elite League format - with Andersen, who had been superb on Monday, again lacking speed around his home circuit.
And Bees once more were indebted to their guest reserve as Lewis Rose stepped in for James Sarjeant and produced his best display around Brandon with a crucial paid-eight contribution.
Just as in last week’s clash with Leicester, the opening of the meeting featured a trading of 5-1s as Andersen was sent wide by Zagar at the start of Heat 1 with the Slovenian quickly going past Stuart Robson to follow guest team-mate Aaron Summers home.
But the Bees reserves hit straight back in Heat 2 as Garrity held the inside to get the better of a fast-starting Worrall and Rose then followed him through off the fourth bend to level the scores - a position which would be maintained through a run of six successive shared races.
There was still plenty of action, though as Kylmakorpi and Nicholls twice exchanged places for third spot in Heat 3 before the Coventry man prevailed, whilst Danny King headed Josh Grajczonek on the first lap of Heat 4 only for the Australian to dive through off the fourth bend.
The Aces were consistently faster from the starts and engineered a 5-1 position in Heat 5 only for Robson to round Worrall for second place and for Garrity to then salvage third with an outrageous move into the last bend where he somehow found some vacant track to navigate his machine into.
Zagar had looked in ominous form but he was headed by a fine ride by King, who charged from the outside gate in Heat 6, but on this occasion Nicholls got the better of Kylmakorpi in the battle for third.
Bees found themselves in trouble again in Heat 7 when Harris was sent wide by Grajczonek and Belle Vue held another 5-1 position - but the home captain produced a magical ride, first passing Worrall and then reeling in ground to dive inside Grajczonek on the last bend and complete the pass for a brilliant win.
The action kept on coming in Heat 8 behind Summers, who raced to a third straight win, as King and Rose both made their way past Worrall - and the deadlock was finally broken in the next race.
For the third heat in succession, it was Belle Vue on a 5-1 in the early stages, but Robson boldly dived between Grajczonek and Stefan Nielsen on the back straight, and the inside line then worked a treat for Garrity as he went from fourth to second before the end of the first lap.
Clouds were building and the heavens suddenly opened just before Heat 10 which produced a shared race in tricky conditions with Harris and Kylmakorpi some way behind Zagar, but vitally ahead of Summers who dropped his first points.
The rain moved away and the interval allowed chance for the track to be recovered, and Heat 11 saw the Aces narrow the gap as Grajczonek took his second win with Robson putting in a determined ride to ensure no way through for Nicholls, who had got the better of Andersen on the second bend.
Heat 12 saw Worrall once again make the start, with Garrity quickly passing Nielsen as Rose missed out, but the visitors were set to level the scores with a 4-2 - until it got even better for them when Garrity dived inside Worrall on the final bend and was adjudged to have straightened up into the path of his opponent, who quickly went down. Garrity was disqualified, Worrall was awarded the win, and with Nielsen inheriting second that meant the Aces led 37-35.
There was then a major Heat 13 call from boss Gary Havelock to replace Andersen with Garrity, and the move did work out albeit after more controversy as Garrity and Nicholls clashed on turn two with Nicholls falling - but the race was allowed to continue and Garrity maintained third place, with a strong chase from Harris seeing him just miss out to Zagar, who kept the visitors ahead.
Bees needed a big finale, and they finally found their gating boots in the nick of time as Kylmakorpi and King briefly held a 5-1 in Heat 14 only for a titanic scrap to develop between King and Grajczonek with the Belle Vue man eventually prevailing in second place - leaving the scores at 42-42 with one race to go, exactly as on Monday in Manchester.
It was Harris and Kylmakorpi against Zagar - who had only dropped one point - and Grajczonek, and the tension ramped up still further when Zagar jumped the start and all four riders came back for the re-run.
The Slovenian had looked to be in almost unstoppable form all night - but he was unable to seal matters for his side as Harris and Kylmakorpi made perfect starts from gates 1 and 3 and squeezed their opponent out, with Gracjczonek making no headway from the outside.
There was then perfect team-riding from the Bees duo against a rider who has produced some remarkable moves around Brandon in the past - but this time Zagar’s challenge faded on lap three and Harris and Kylmakorpi roared home to a standing ovation.
Bees boss Gary Havelock said: “It was a sensational meeting, and I think everyone who witnessed it will certainly have gone home thinking they got their money’s worth.
“I always thought it was going to go right down to Heat 15, but what can I say - Bomber was Captain Fantastic again, he went off the worst gate, he let Joonas have the best one, and he pretty much shepherded him home. For the first two laps he covered virtually 90 per cent of the track!
“I really feel for Hans. There’s no way any rider goes out there with the intention of not scoring points, but we’re all behind him 100 per cent. We win as a team together and we lose together, and we know he’s the type of rider that if he tries something different his confidence could come back, and then bang.
“The other thing I will say is you normally expect on any given day your No.1 scoring double figures, so if Hans comes back and starts getting 10 points or so, then that makes us very strong indeed.
“We battled on Monday when Jason did his small-track engine and had to borrow bikes, we still got two points, and to come back like that tonight with a 5-1 in Heat 15 was sensational for the fans.”
BUILDBASE BEES 47: Chris Harris 10+2, Joonas Kylmakorpi 9+1, Danny King 8, Jason Garrity 7+3, Stuart Robson 7, Lewis Rose 5+3, Hans Andersen 1. BELLE VUE 43: Matej Zagar 14+1, Josh Grajczonek 11, Aaron Summers 9, Steve Worrall 5+2, Scott Nicholls 2+1, Stefan Nielsen 2+1, Craig Cook R/R.
BUILDBASE BEES 47 Hans Andersen 1 R 0 = 1 Stuart Robson 0 2 3 2 = 7 Joonas Kylmakorpi 1* 0 2 3 3 = 9+1 Danny King 2 3 2 1 = 8 Chris Harris 2 3 1* 2 2* = 10+2 Jason Garrity 3 1* 2* X 1* = 7+3 Lewis Rose 2* 1* 1* 1 = 5+3