THE Buildbase Bees could not achieve their ultimate goal of direct qualification to the Craven Shield Final - but they still did enough to top their group in a performance of plenty of character at Kirkmanshulme Lane.
Circumstances were hardly ideal with track conditions far from easy, and Bees using the rider replacement facility for Rory Schlein, but there were some good battling performances and their progression to the semi-finals was never seriously in doubt.
Belle Vue at home are a far stronger proposition in 2008, especially if second-string Billy Forsberg continues to improve at such an impressive rate, and the Aces clearly have far more race-winning potential than last year as well.
One thing which they will wish to address as soon as possible is the clear imbalance in starting positions, which was on show in last week's televised meeting and was further magnified on this occasion.
Starting on gate 4 presented the riders with a huge advantage, whilst alongside in gate 3 was akin to taking a 15-metre penalty for touching the tapes - and that meant that the race order into the first bend was often fairly predictable, even if what happened after that was less so given the patchy nature of the circuit as a result of stock cars on Sunday.
Billy Janniro was the first rider to take advantage of an outside start as he exploded off the line in Heat 1, and with Jason Crump well and truly bogged down the Aces' No.1 had to take a lap or so to make his way past Olly Allen, by which time Janniro had the race well under control.
Bees gained the bonus of a race winner from the inside in Heat 2 as although Andreas Messing was beaten away by Robert Ksiezak, the Swede rode a tight first bend to emerge in front; but with Stanislaw Burza clearly struggling to get to grips with the circuit, the Aces had few problems in sharing the points.
Janniro gained the benefit of another outside start in Heat 3, having taken the rider replacement ride in Heat 1, and he hit the front again in his second ride with Chris Harris forced to make his way through the traffic - which he managed on the second lap with a cut-back on Lukasz Jankowski for the first Bees 5-1 of the evening.
Simon Stead marked his return to Kirkmanshulme Lane by holding off Joe Screen to win Heat 4, but the Aces then began to get into their stride with a 4-2 in Heat 5, Harris passing Jankowski going into the final lap after a couple of unconventional blocking manoeuvres from the Pole, and the home side then netted maximum points in Heat 6 when Forsberg took advantage of the inside line on turn two to trap both Stead and Messing who had started faster.
Heat 7 produced a nasty moment as Screen was caught out by the track on turn four and ended up T-boning Harris as he shot across the circuit, with Janniro laying his machine down to avoid a more serious incident. Screen was quick to show concern for Harris, who was able to resume after treatment, and it was astonishing that a large section of the home support chose to voice their frustration at referee Margaret Vardy, who made the only decision possible by excluding Screen.
The re-run was far from straightforward either as Rajkowski shot to the front from the outside, and the three riders came close to an horrific pile-up on the fourth bend when they all got out of shape and somehow come through unscathed. Rajkowski looked set to take a famous win until he slid wide on turn two at the start of the last lap, giving Janniro his invitation to go through, and Harris followed his team-mate as they went into the third bend.
The main battle in Heat 8 was for second place behind the impressive Forsberg, with Ksiezak almost hitting the fence on the back straight to give Allen the chance to pass, and the Bees man maintained his place even after a last-lap error which brought Ksiezak alongside him but not quite into position to complete a 5-1.
Belle Vue, however, were making progress and they added a further 4-2 in Heat 9 when Gjedde used the outside line to good effect on turns three and four to make it around Stead, and they secured another 5-1 in Heat 10 thanks to a superb ride by Forsberg to hold off Harris in the early stages.
The next two races were shared, although Harris had cause to look at the track again in Heat 12 as he lost a certain win when he picked up unexpected grip on turn four and did remarkably well to hold on, and with the scores at 39-33 the Aces required three 5-1s to secure their necessary 18-point winning margin.
The first of those duly arrived in Heat 13, Crump and Screen doing it comfortably from gates 2 and 4, but that led to the Bees using a tactical ride in Heat 14 even if there was a little panic in equipping Janniro with the black and white helmet colour.
Messing, replacing Burza,made the start with Janniro initially having to battle for second spot with Jankowski, and with Messing understandably focused on winning the race, Bees had to be content with a 7-1 - not that it made a significant difference to the meeting and there would have been long odds on a 5-1 in Heat 15 in any case.
Those hopes evaporated virtually as soon as the Aces won the coin toss for gate positions, and Gjedde and Crump completed the meeting comfortably enough ahead of Janniro and Harris, but Bees had already done enough to reach the semi-finals.
Lakeside will be happiest team of all as they have been handed the direct route to the Final, but this meeting was an improvement on the despair of Friday at Brandon - and, most encouragingly, there were no engine problems as Bees maintained their interest in the competition.
BELLE VUE 50 Jason Crump 1* 3 3 3 2* = 12+2 Billy Forsberg 2 2* 3 2* = 9+2 Charlie Gjedde 1 3 3 3 3 = 13 Lukasz Jankowski 0 1 1 1 = 3 Joe Screen 2 X 3 2 = 7+2 Michal Rajkowski 1* 1 0 0 = 2+1 Robert Ksiezak 2 1* 1 0 = 4+1