THE chant was borne out of a lot more hope than expectation: Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.

City's 1,800 travelling fans urged their team towards the Millwall goal as time ticked away.

The cry deep into the second half of the second leg proved in vain and home keeper Jordan Archer remained untroubled. City's play-off dream had ended with a scenario many had predicted.

Phil Parkinson rightly pointed out afterwards that the semi-final was settled in its first quarter, when Millwall scored three times inside 45 minutes at Valley Parade five days earlier.

Two well-matched teams were separated by what happened in the penalty area. City blew their best chances; Millwall didn't.

The irony that it was a striker who developed right under City's noses who dealt the killer blows was not lost on the manager.

He had watched Lee Gregory filling his boots for Halifax before Millwall came swooping with £250,000 in the back pocket.

Parkinson would surely have done the same if he'd had the dosh there and then. And there's the rub.

Gregory spearheaded Millwall's attack with Steve Morison, who had once cost Norwich a cool £2.8million.

They had amassed nearly 50 goals between them in the season – and three of the four that did for the Bantams in the play-offs.

Money does not always buy happiness in front of goal. Relegated Blackpool splashed out around £700,000 on strikers and failed to score in ten of their last 16 games on the descent to League Two.

Mark Lawn claimed that City's wage bill was the fourth highest in the division. Sheffield United's, and surprisingly not Wigan, was apparently the largest.

Parkinson's budget was bumped up by a further £500,000 during the campaign for the wages of the loan recruits who proved so influential.

But the manager will argue that every extra pound was covered from player sales: Oliver McBurnie and the six-figure windfall from Swansea last July, Devante Cole, Gary Liddle and an historic payment over Andre Wisdom.

It is a familiar landscape for Parkinson in his five years at Valley Parade and he has continued to push the club forward.

But it was the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer that ultimately cost City the chance of going up – and they tend to cost decent money.

Parkinson talked in the aftermath of the Den disappointment of bridging the five-point gap between top six and top two next term. A front pair contributing 45 goals would have done that, without a doubt.

But James Hanson was the only City marksman to finish in double figures, with his 13-goal tally swelled by a long-overdue first career hat-trick.

After him, the next highest were three players on six – including Cole, who left in January after an increasingly truculent five-month stay. Billy Clarke, the previous year's top scorer on 14, dropped to just four.

However good your defence – and City's record at that end was very impressive – such a lack of firepower was always going to be the Achilles heel.

"We have to think about the team offensively," said Edin Rahic after the joint-owner's first meeting with Parkinson, who will want to tap into the new German investment.

Central midfield is another key area for recruitment after losing the impressive axis of Josh Cullen and Lee Evans.

Maybe Evans, heading into the final year of his contract at Wolves, can still be enticed back. But West Ham duo Cullen and defender Reece Burke – rightly named player of the year after an outstanding campaign – will be off to the Championship.

Their role in a season that gathered pace from the standing start of the first ten games cannot be understated. The young loan players really bought in to the City team ethic that Parkinson preaches and each was treated as "one of our own."

Kyel Reid, of course, already was and had a talismanic effect in kick-starting the revival with his glorious "home-coming" at Rochdale at the beginning of October. Seventy points from the 36 games from that point was a title-winning ratio.

Incidentally, that Spotland win was one of just four times when City scored more than once on their travels – the 4-0 salvo at Peterborough in February the only occasion from the end of November.

It was a different story at the other end. It seemed harder to break into Fort Knox than open up a backline that recorded 27 shut-outs.

A club record 22 in the league was supplemented by five more in the FA Cup. It will be a decent pub trivia question in future to name the team that got knocked out without conceding a goal in eight hours of action.

When Filipe Morais collapsed in pre-season training with a serious knee injury, then his replacement Paul Anderson broke his leg, a long and frustrating campaign beckoned.

Led by their hard-nosed defending, City clambered into contention by the mid-point. But one-sided defeats at Sheffield United and Gillingham in the space of five days over Christmas and New Year seemed to confirm they would fall short.

Cullen's arrival the following month changed everything. The baby-faced teenager slipped straight into midfield like a veteran, just as good pal Burke had done at the back.

He rejuvenated Evans alongside him and the team in general. That four-goal pounding of the Posh, some way to break their duck at London Road after 14 previous fruitless attempts, sparked a charge towards the finish line.

After a banana-skin defeat against Colchester on March 1, they never dropped another point at home – seven straight wins at Valley Parade being their best run since 1968.

Promotion rivals Walsall were gloriously taken to the cleaners with Hanson's treble and an equally popular goal from Morais on his first start in a year.

The fans played their part and home crowds were once again the second-highest in the division behind Bramall Lane. The attendance for the win over Chesterfield in the final game was the first to top 20,000 in the league since Premier League-bound West Brom took over the place in 2002.

But injuries returned to disrupt the play-off preparation. Hanson was hugely missed in the Millwall double-header at both ends – his absence from defending set-pieces in the first leg was brutally exposed by the physical visitors.

So near and yet so far. But as the pain subsides from missing out on Sunday's showpiece at Wembley, where Millwall were instead overcome by Barnsley, City can look back with pride on another season of forward progress.

Their 80-point tally was the club's highest since Paul Jewell's promotion winners of 1999 and achieved in similar circumstances from a sluggish opening.

Only second-placed Burton conceded fewer goals and a clean-sheet ratio of one in two will take some beating.

But just four teams scored less – and three of those will start next season in League Two. Parkinson, a keen student of statistics, will not need to be reminded of that as this new City era dawns.



13 Hanson

6 Cole, McMahon, Proctor

5 Davies

4 B Clarke, Evans, Reid

3 McArdle

2 Burke, Leigh, Liddle, own goals

1 Knott, Meredith, Morais, Morris, Routis, Thomas


8 Evans

6 Proctor

5 Burke, Hanson, McArdle

4 N Clarke

3 McMahon

2 B Clarke, Cullen, Knott, Meredith

1 Cole, Darby, James, Leigh, Marshall, Morris, Reid, Routis, Sheehan, Thomas, Williams


9 Evans, McMahon

6 Hanson, McArdle

5 Davies

4 Burke, N Clarke, Cullen, Darby

3 Knott, Liddle, Meredith, Reid

2 Anderson

1 Cole, Leigh, Marshall, Proctor, Routis, Sheehan, Thomas, Williams


1 N Clarke, Davies, Evans


54 Darby

52 Williams

48 (1) McMahon

44 (3) Meredith

44 McArdle

39 (2) Evans

37 (2) Reid

36 (12) Hanson

36 Burke

26 (10) B Clarke

25 (6) N Clarke

22 (4) Liddle

21 (7) Knott

17 Cullen

15 (5) Proctor

14 (10) Cole

12 (25) Marshall

12 (3) Routis

9 Leigh

8 (22) Davies

8 (8) Morris

6 (8) Anderson

6 (4) Thomas

4 (10) James

3 (5) Morais

3 Jones, Sheehan

2 (2) Thorpe

1 (2) Bowery

0 (1) Mottley-Henry

MATCH MARKS (minimum 20 games)

Burke 7.03

Evans 6.95

McArdle 6.84

N Clarke 6.81

Reid 6.71

Meredith 6.70

Darby 6.68

Liddle 6.54

Williams 6.50

Hanson 6.49

McMahon 6.46

Knott 6.32

B Clarke 6.26

Others: Bowery 8.00 (1), Cullen 7.35 (17), Proctor 7.13 (15), Leigh 6.89 (9), Thomas 6.86 (7), Marshall 6.76 (14), Morais 6.66 (3), Sheehan 6.66 (3), Thorpe 6.67 (3), Morris 6.54 (11), James 6.50 (4), Cole 6.14 (14), Davies 6.08 (12), Routis 6.08 (12), Anderson 6.00 (7), Jones 5.00 (3).