Brentford 2, City 0
Somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, Clayton Donaldson is banging goals for fun in a City shirt.
Cheered on by his family in the Valley Parade box promised him by Peter Jackson, Donaldson is fulfilling his lifelong ambition of leading his home-town team.
Meanwhile, on planet earth, the marksman from Manningham sees the Bantams as the juiciest of targets.
Saturday’s game-breaking strike just after the hour point was the fifth time he had scored against the club where he grew up in their last six meetings.
And the odd-one-out in that sequence was only because Brentford played three quarters of it with ten men at City in September.
Donaldson also brought up his half century of goals for the club he chose over Jacko’s overtures in the summer of 2011.
Not content with opting for a higher division, at the time, more money and the glamour of London life, the 30-year-old forward seems intent on continuing to punish his one-time pursuers.
In contrast, the line-leading presence so crucial to the present-day Bantams was a mere spectator at Griffin Park.
James Hanson had his name serenaded by the impressively-noisy away following but that was only because he had been spotted walking out of the dressing room.
The big man was nowhere to be seen in the thick of it after complaining of a tweaked groin at the 11th hour – and with his late withdrawal went City’s best hopes of unseating their lofty opponents.
Aaron Mclean would pay the price for the tactical reshuffle as his hunt for that elusive first goal goes on.
But a week’s preparation on the training ground went out of the window when Hanson complained of a problem on Friday. Best laid plans and all that and instead it was Mclean given the role of the lone forager.
Like Donaldson at Valley Parade at the start of this season, when Brentford removed his attacking partner after the keeper’s red card, it became a thankless task – especially for a forward whose confidence must be low until he does get off the mark.
It was never likely to happen on Saturday, with City’s attacking bursts few and far between. And when they did get the ball in potential promising situations, the momentum too often broke down with a casual pass or lack of thought.
In a first half when they effectively blunted any edge to Brentford’s play, City were guilty of not taking more care on the counter.
While the home side dominated possession, the best chance of a featureless opening 45 minutes had fallen to the visitors. But Atkinson leant back and scooped Kyle Bennett’s pass over the Brentford bar.
Apart from one threatening cross from Jake Bidwell that Jon McLaughlin pawed away, City’s policy of containment was working well. Brentford knocked the ball round well but it was all in front of the packed sky blue lines.
Even without Andrew Davies, another frustratingly late pull-out, the back four had a far more solid look than the week before against Stevenage.
With no goals in their previous two outings, Brentford were growing restless and the frustration was creeping into the stands.
Mark Warburton, the City of London trader turned manager, recognised the signs and urged his team to play “15-20” yards further forward in the second half. The difference in intensity was immediate.
Two corners inside the opening minute signalled a verve to the home play that had been lacking. Suddenly City’s day in the west London sun did not seem quite so comfortable.
Will Grigg fired a warning shot with a half-volley flashing past the post. Then inevitably Donaldson came to the party. He had not scored for six games – but then this was his favourite opposition.
There were shades of Stevenage as City did not close him down 25 yards from their goal. Gary Jones was slow to spot the danger and Donaldson had the time and space to pick his spot and find the bottom corner. It was the first shot on target of the afternoon.
City were now forced to come out and play and the inevitable gaps encouraged Brentford to push forward at will. They did not need a second invitation.
Donaldson should have doubled his tally after great work from newly-arrived substitute Marcello Trotta put a chance on a plate.
Then one-time Leeds man Jonathan Douglas looped a header onto the top of the bar, before McLaughlin foiled Bidwell’s follow-up.
Parkinson resorted to 4-4-2 by replacing Atkinson with Andy Gray and the veteran finally forced a save out of David Button. But his downward header bounced straight into the keeper’s clutches.
That rare chance poked Brentford with a stick and they responded by killing the contest.
From their next attack, Trotta and Alan Judge appeared to get in each other’s way in the corner of the City box. But the ball broke kindly to George Saville and the youngster scored the fourth goal of his loan from Chelsea with a bobbly shot through a sea of City legs, appearing to clip McHugh along the way.
McArdle flicked a Jones corner agonisingly across the face of Brentford’s goal – the closest the visitors came – but it needed a superb point-blank save from McLaughlin to stop Trotta adding a third.
But just like Wolves away a month earlier, City had been routinely seen off without two of their big-hitters.
With a visit to Leyton Orient, the other team in the three-into-two rumble for automatic promotion, scheduled in three weeks’ time, Parkinson will be hoping that he can actually pick his side to order.
For now, City’s thoughts turn to matches against the two clubs immediately below them. Slip-ups then and the table will potentially take on a much darker complexion.