CALL in the cavalry when the going gets tough - or summon the old guard for Parade duty in City’s case.

Paul Jewell famously kept the Bantams in the top flight with a side in which the majority were 30-somethings.

Christened “Dad’s army” in the national press, the comparisons with Walmington-on-Sea’s finest may have grated in the dressing room.

But experience proved an invaluable weapon in defying their army of critics and keeping City afloat.

A decade later, Phil Parkinson went down the same “seen it, done it” recruitment route in his difficult first season at the club.

The likes of Ricky Ravenhill, Marcel Seip, Craig Fagan, Matt Duke and Rob Kozluk were all 30 and above by the time Football League security had been safe-guarded.

And now it’s David Hopkin’s turn to rely on those footballers slightly longer in the tooth.

Karl Henry is something of a survival expert after a long career forged on frequent scraps at the wrong end of the table.

His was a leading role in helping Parkinson’s Bolton beat a drop from the Championship last season that they had looked nailed on for when he arrived.

As Henry turns 36, he has added City to a lengthy CV as Hopkin’s third recruit from free agency. Like predecessors Paul Caddis and Jim O’Brien, he is no spring chicken.

So much for the much-trumpeted era of unproven youth being polished up and sold on for profit. That dream, like the influence of chairman Edin Rahic, is fast waning.

Hopkin may not have the luxury of a loan market to dip in like Parkinson did during his equally testing baptism seven years ago.

But he knows that the uncompromising arena of a relegation dogfight is no place for raw rookies – Lewis O’Brien continuing to be the honourable exception.

Hence the move for another player with so many miles on the clock – and one fully attuned to the seriousness of the situation.

“A good character and leader” was Parkinson’s description after giving his old club a glowing reference. Just what is needed in this ugly mess.

The influence of Henry and Caddis was evident in yesterday’s faith-restoring triumph over an in-form Oxford. They presented a reassuring presence, both around the ball and in talking their team-mates through a day that could have tested the strongest nerves.

If ever proof was required of City’s plight, the phrase “must win” in November says it all. Valley Parade was no arena for faint hearts.

But the booming songs at the final whistle amplified the belief that is slowly seeping back into Bantam pores. Maybe, just maybe, this season may not be the relegation write-off that so many already fear.

Peterborough, Aldershot, Oxford – as weeks go that’s been as good as it’s got over these miserable months. Yet hearing the noise cascading down from the Kop and sweeping around this famous stadium, you had to be made of stone not to notice the element of hope that has re-emerged.

While the road ahead remains rocky, at least there appears to be a sense of direction – and some composed leadership. No need for panic, as the battle-hardened Henry had stressed before kick-off.

The firm defensive base that Hopkin has looked to establish is allowing those freer spirits in the team to do their thing. It’s no coincidence that the creative talents Jack Payne and David Ball are visibly starting to blossom from that confidence of solid back-up behind them.

Young O’Brien continues to buck the trend, a figure of positive perpetual motion even when times have been at their hardest. A midfield mentor to advise him can only develop his already-impressive game.

With Henry sitting in front of a back four, Hopkin asked Ball and Payne to play as “number 10s” behind a front two of Eoin Doyle and Kai Bruenker.

The German’s inclusion for only his third league start caused the inevitable consternation among supporters. But he played his part as much as anyone in City’s first home win since August.

Bruenker, as we have constantly debated, may not be the best target man. There will always be question marks over whether he is up to the level.

But he is the only player in the current squad capable of playing that role. And he certainly made a difference on Saturday.

You could see that in Doyle, who finally found himself freed of the thankless task of constantly taking the hits against bigger markers.

With someone else prepared to do that alongside him, the Irishman became more animated than he has been in a while.

Bruenker, who had also started City’s previous victory at Wimbledon, plays with an enthusiasm of someone clearly out to make the most of every minute on the pitch.

The sheer joy on his face as Payne wheeled away after scoring the second epitomised how much he wants to do well for this team.

The ovation when he was subbed was a genuine one from a crowd who appreciate honest toil and hard graft. His strutting exit from the stage suggested he has never enjoyed a game of football quite as much.

City had been second best for the opening 20 minutes against opponents confident of extending their unbeaten surge to a 10th game.

But the tension was released with the first goal. Payne’s corner was flicked across goal by Doyle and there was Ball to nod home at the far post, although one-time Bantam Simon Eastwood will feel he should have done better.

Within three minutes, it got even better. Doyle’s shot was blocked as far as O’Brien who squared for Payne to convert against the club where he spent half a season a year ago.

The shackles removed, City had a third effort ruled out for offside against Anthony O’Connor.

There was an even stronger claim for another in the second half when O’Brien’s effort was chalked off for a dubious offside call against provider Ball.

Referee Darren Drysdale, of Dean Windass car park fame, was not done with that and caused further uproar with a straight red card for Nathaniel Knight-Percival after an aerial clash with Jamie Hanson.

That set up a potentially nervous finish, especially with eight added minutes. But one close call from Curtis Nelson apart, City saw it through to general jubilation.

Dare we say it’s game on at last.