Oldham 1, City 0
WHEN City last visited Boundary Park in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy three years ago, it felt as if the best chance of ever reaching Wembley again had slipped through their fingers.
Little did any of the 2,500 fans who travelled from West Yorkshire for that northern area semi-final defeat know that they would gatecrash the national stadium not once but twice the following season.
But for lower-league sides, the least fashionable of the cup competitions still remains the most obvious route to a final.
Phil Parkinson had reminded his players of that on the eve of last night's trip to Boundary Park – but their journey towards Wembley never got any further.
Their eighth successive away game in the competition had an unfortunate twist in the tale.
Penalties beckoned – and the chance for City to make it ten straight shoot-out triumphs – when Oldham made their decisive move with just two minutes left on the clock. It was probably their first genuine threat on the away goal.
It was a harsh late blow for the Bantams against an Oldham side who were virtually at full strength, minus deadline day capture Dominic Poleon from Leeds.
Parkinson kept within the rules by retaining six of Saturday's starters. Christopher Routis made his debut at centre half and Oliver McBurnie got a first start of the season.
The Frenchman looked very composed in his first outing since July. It was not so easy for McBurnie, who had not played at all in pre-season, or strike partner Aaron Mclean.
All of the back four plus goalkeeper were on duty again, with James Meredith moving up to midfield to give Gary Liddle the night off.
McBurnie could have had his first senior goal after 12 minutes but headed wide from a corner by Alan Sheehan, whose crossing was top notch once more.
Stephen Darby's long ball cleared the Oldham back four but it would not come down for Mclean, allowing James Wilson time to recover and block his goal-bound shot.
Oldham's best chances in a tight first half were both created by Carl Winchester.
The right winger cut inside to feed James Dayton for a well-struck shot on the turn that had Jordan Pickford scrabbling as it flew past the post.
And as the interval approached, Winchester dinked a cross from the byline for Amari Morgan-Smith to head down and wide from eight yards.
Jason Kennedy, fresh from opening his goal account for the season at old club Rochdale, twice went close as the game resumed – only to be foiled by brave blocks.
Joseph Mills flung himself in the way of one fierce drive which crashed into his midriff, then George Elokobi charged down another Kennedy shot at the near post.
City's bright start to the half continued as Mark Yeates, who had been quiet up to that point, suddenly rattled a post from 20 yards. Darby latched on to the rebound but Mclean could not steer his cross home.
That was the striker's last meaningful involvement as Parkinson made the expected double change up front with 20 minutes left – just in time to see the first appearance of the referee's vanishing spray for an Oldham free-kick.
James Hanson is surely the favourite to be named League One's player of the month for August after being short-listed today.
But there was to be no winning start to September for the in-form hitman - and it was a rare Hanson mistake, when he surrendered possession, that was to prove City's undoing.
Instead it was a substitute from the Oldham bench who finally broke the deadlock as thoughts just started to turn towards a potential shoot-out.
Jordan Bove had only been on the pitch for six minutes when Winchester's cross-shot was blocked by Pickford and fell into his path to thrash home from close range.
Oldham: Rachubka 6, B Wilson 7, Elokobi 8, J Wilson 7, Mills 7, Winchester 7, Kelly 6, Jones 6, Dayton 6 (Bove 82min), Philliskirk 5, Morgan-Smith 6 (Dieng 82min). Subs (not used): Brown, Tidser, Coleman
City: Pickford 6, Darby 7, McArdle 7, Routis 8, Sheehan 7, Kennedy 7, Meredith 6 (Clarke 74min), Dolan 6, Yeates 6, Mclean 5 (Bennett 69min), McBurnie 6 (Hanson 69min). Subs (not used): Knott, Williams.