THE Buildbase Bees' Knockout Cup defence remains very much alive - but it was far from a vintage performance at Kirkmanshulme Lane in Monday's first-leg tie.
Coming away from Manchester with a five-point defeat had to be considered as something of a result on a night where a number of riders failed to fire as expected, and it was reserves Stan Burza and Ben Barker, along with skipper Chris Harris, who ensured that Bees stayed in touch.
And after tracking a full-strength team in the recent Elite League meeting between the clubs, Bees now have further injury concerns with Andreas Messing once again struggling with his leg injury. Messing has an infection in his wound and has been placed on another course of antibiotics.
And not only that, Billy Janniro had to take a hospital trip after a crash in Heat 7 when he received lacerations to his leg after being taken down by a fallen Nick Simmons. Janniro was kept in overnight on Monday for surgery the following morning to clean up the wound.
Fortunately in a difficult situation, Barker and Burza managed to cover for the absence of Janniro, and the tactical ride rule also fell in Bees' favour as they dropped ten points down just at an opportune time to deploy Harris for a six-pointer in Heat 11.
Jason Crump romped to his third straight home maximum for the Aces and was once again near track record pace in Heat 1, Harris going outside Joe Screen for second place on the back straight as the home side elected to pair their big guns early.
And had Heat 2 taken place later in the meeting a Coventry 5-1 may well have resulted, but as it was Burza made a good start to take an untroubled win, whilst Barker had gone the wrong way in his set-up and went too wide on turn two, puting himself out of contention.
Belle Vue doubled their early lead with a 4-2 in Heat 3 after Janniro had fallen on the first bend, seemingly having received a nudge - but the referee allowed the race to go on, probably because there had already been some movement at the start from the American.
The next series of races were shared, Screen taking Heat 4 ahead of Burza and Simon Stead, and then Heat 5 produced some good action with Harris cutting inside Gjedde for the win and Olly Allen apparently winning a battle for third place with Forsberg - until he fell on the first bend of the last lap enabling the Swede to re-take third place.
Crump swept home in Heat 6, and the next race saw Bees lose Janniro as Simmons got out of shape on the first two corners and the momentum of his fall took Janniro, on his outside, into the fence. Both riders required treatment although both were able to walk off the circuit - and the reaction of a section of home fans to news of an injured rider was as sadly predictable as it was undesirable.
The re-run was shared as Screen out-trapped Rory Schlein, and there was a similar outcome in Heat 8 although Bees were left thinking of what might have been as both Barker and Allen made the start, only for Allen to lose it on turn three and hand second and third places to Jonas Raun and Billy Forsberg.
Forsberg, who was not making consistent starts, did hit the front in Heat 9 and was joined a lap later by Gjedde, who found the drive on the outside to come past Stead for the first maximum of the evening - and it was backed up by a surprise 4-2 in an eventful Heat 10 with Raun popping out of the start with Crump, and Schlein being sent very wide on turn two.
The Bees riders chased Raun, and Barker - in for Janniro - finally made it around the outside going into the last lap, but Raun still held on for a notable third place.
The positive for Bees was that they had gone ten points down at the right time as Harris was very much their best bet for a six-pointer, and he duly delivered in Heat 11, although not from the gate as Screen led him until turn four when Harris switched back down the inside.
With Allen holding on for third place, the 7-2 halved the deficit to five points, and Heat 12 was shared with Burza making another terrific start and leading Gjedde for the first half-lap, Schlein this time in a comfortable third place.
Belle Vue edged themselves seven points up with a 4-2 in Heat 13 with Harris doing all he could to pass Crump but being deined by a brilliant ride by the double World Champion - but Heat 14 was an excellent one for the Bees as Burza again flew out of the start, and Barker cut back superbly on turn two to leave Forsberg and Raun trailing.
It was a 5-1 to cut the margin to three points, possibly generous on the Bees given their overall performance but it did sum up the impact that the two reserves had made, and both could be very satisfied with their displays.
Heat 15 was another good race with Schlein making a good getway from the inside only to go out wide on turn two, and as the other riders piled through Harris was again close to making a passing move on Crump - close, but not quite close enough!
It wasn't exactly the performance that Bees had been looking for, and it was undoubtedly the reserves who dragged them up to an acceptable scoreline, and now they have to make sure they get the job done in Friday's second leg to advance to the last four.
BELLE VUE 49 Jason Crump 3 3 3 3 3 = 15 Lukasz Jankowski Rider Replacement Charlie Gjedde 3 2 2* 3 1 = 11+1 Billy Forsberg 1 1* 1* 3 1 = 7+2 Joe Screen 1 3 3 2 1 = 10 Nick Simmons 2 0 X 0 = 2 Jonas Raun 1* 0 2 1 0 0 = 4+1
BUILDBASE BEES 44 Chris Harris 2 3 6^ 2 2 = 15 Olly Allen 0 X F 1 = 1 Rory Schlein 2 2 0 1* 0 = 5+1 Billy Janniro F N = 0 Simon Stead 1* 2 1 0 = 4+1 Stan Burza 3 1* 1* 0 2 3 = 10+2 Ben Barker 0 2 3 2 2* = 9+1