City 1, Dagenham 1
It was as if Sunday had never happened; nothing more than a glorious day-dream.
If being at Wembley felt like a parallel universe, City returned to planet earth with a bump against a traditional nemesis.
At least James Hanson made sure that the Bantams grabbed a share of the spoils with a deserved late equaliser. A fourth home defeat in a row in the league would have been unjust.
But it felt flat after all the euphoria – and the top seven is still a way off even with those games in hand.
Mark Lawn had called for a proper homecoming atmosphere to greet the return to League Two normality. And those who were there could not be faulted in creating a decent noise.
But the 10,006 crowd figure was well down on the joint-chairman’s estimate – and at least 23,000 fewer than the weekend’s turn-out.
So, many of those who had screamed City ’Til I Die three days before had decided against following it up on familiar soil.
After the artists of Swansea, the artisans of Dagenham; from the Spanish inquisition at the twinkling feet of Michu and Pablo Hernandez to the no-nonsense boot of the self-proclaimed small pub team from Essex.
Nothing could be further removed from the Welsh wizards stroking the ball hypnotically around Wembley than the Daggers pumping it long into the channels to play for corners and throw-ins.
But if it was a case of City quickly having to get their heads back out of the Capital One Cup clouds, it was also a strange night for Dagenham as they began life without John Still.
The former longest-serving gaffer in the Football League had occupied their hot-seat – in his second spell with the club – since April 2004.
To put it into context, Bryan Robson was the Bantams boss at that time and his side were in the final throes of relegation from the Championship.
Dagenham, under Still, regarded Valley Parade as a second home – they had never lost in four previous visits. City had to buck that trend to reignite hopes of regaining some ground on their play-off rivals.
Parkinson shuffled the pack as promised, with six changes from Sunday. Jon McLaughlin was the only enforced one in goal for his first league action since October.
The City boss urged his side to go for it in the last leg of their marathon season and the presence of both Kyel Reid and Zavon Hines was proof of his attacking intent.
Dagenham sportingly gave them a guard of honour to walk on to the pitch and City were greeted by a sea of Wembley flags and plenty of noise from the stands.
Rory McArdle, playing at right back, had the first chance with a stretching volley that flashed over the bar after eight minutes.
But McLaughlin needed to be on his toes with a fine save on to the bar to deny Medy Elito as Dagenham countered. Matt Saunders dribbled past Michael Nelson to feed the winger, who cut inside and unleashed a fierce shot which the keeper was equal to.
Nathan Doyle took his bookings tally to nine for flattening Luke Howell but City tried to stay on the front foot. The home fans were certainly in a positive vein and doing their bit.
The tempo was fierce, with Dagenham double-teaming Reid to keep the winger in close check. And despite plenty of energy from the home side, McArdle’s early effort was their only chance in the first half hour.
Centre half Scott Doe, a veteran of previous Daggers raids on City soil, nicked the ball off Garry Thompson as he tried to latch on to a Gary Jones through-ball. But there was a threat from the corner as McArdle again popped up with a flick-header across goal.
A little bit of devil was finally creeping into City’s play but not enough and keeper Chris Lewington watched as Jones drove low and wide from 30 yards.
Dagenham were doing the job defensively with a foot here or a toe there, Luke Wilkinson robbing Andy Gray – who was finding it hard to get into the game – and Lewington diving at the feet of Thompson right on the edge of the penalty area as half-time arrived without a breakthrough.
But City had a huge escape four minutes into the second half after Dagenham fluffed a penalty.
Reid stumbled into the back of Wilkinson and it looked a harsh call as the assistant flagged. But justice – in home eyes –was done as Sam Williams fired a woeful spot-kick well wide of the right post.
Left back Olafemi Ilesanmi had been walking a disciplinary tight rope after a serious of debatable tackles on Hines. But referee Chris Sarginson’s patience finally ran out as his latest lunge earned a yellow card.
Lewington clawed away Nelson’s header in a crowded six-yard box and Gray showed good juggling skills with his back to goal before shooting wide.
City were trying but Williams nearly atoned for his hash from 12 yards with a clever curling effort that was not far off.
The hosts responded with a flurry of corners. McArdle’s curled shot from the first was deflected just over and then Andrew Davies panicked Doe into a hurried clearance against his own bar.
Parkinson swapped his strikers round and brought Nahki Wells and Hanson off the bench. But the pair had not even had a touch when Dagenham stunned Valley Parade into near silence with a 69th-minute goal.
City coughed up possession to the right of the box and Ben Strevens cleverly slipped inside McArdle. As the defence tried to recover, the ball broke sideways into the path of Howell, who gave McLaughlin no chance with a drive into the bottom corner.
On came Alan Connell for Stephen Darby as Parkinson threw everyone in search of an equaliser – and it came with four minutes to go.
Hines, who had troubled Dagenham all night, drilled in a cross which Wells touched on for Hanson to knock home from close range.
City sensed a dramatic victory now and almost had it as Wells was thwarted on the line by Abu Ogogo. All in all, an opportunity missed as the play-offs remain ten points away.