City 3 Bristol Rovers 1

CHARLIE Wyke thought fourth official Ben Toner had spoiled his afternoon.

With Omari Patrick limbering up on the touchline, the number nine flashed up on the substitution board.

Wyke, with two goals under his belt, saw the opportunity of a third career hat-trick slipping away.

But as he headed towards the bench, a frantic shout from Stuart McCall pointed out that it was Bristol Rovers frontman Ellis Harrison coming off. Both sides had made changes at the same moment.

That was the only wrong call Wyke made on Saturday. Everything else fell deliciously into place.

For City, this was the first evidence of a team rather than a collection of individuals. They were strong throughout, not just in dribs and drabs.

It was not just about Wyke. The return of skipper Romain Vincelot and the masked Adam Chicksen meant McCall was able to pick a line-up that he had probably jotted on the wipe board in pre-season as his first choice.

Having been scrabbling around for so long to fill holes at the back, he now has the luxury going into Saturday's trip to leaders Peterborough of wondering how Adam Thompson will fit in.

But let's savour this win first. After all the recriminations of Walsall, it made welcome viewing to see City rediscover their full-on mode. A rocking Valley Parade were certainly convinced.

It will also have sent out a message to those others in the division who may have questioned the strength in depth of this rebuilt side.

Sky Sports ran a graphic at the start of their live coverage to illustrate that City's summer exodus had cost them players with well over 1,000 appearances for the club.

This is a team still finding its feet; built on promise and potential as much as old-fashioned grit and experience. There will inevitably be wobbles like the previous week along the way.

But the cameras don't lie and what City displayed to a national TV audience will have caused a few ripples.

No more so than Wyke, who shut up his own doubters with a complete centre forward's display.

It is amazing to think that he was last on the scoresheet at the beginning of April, when City swept aside Bury at Gigg Lane.

Some quieter performances at the business end of the campaign, culminating in a Wembley outing when he barely got a sniff against Millwall, produced the inevitable whispers about whether the jump in class from Carlisle in League Two was proving troublesome.

A pre-season spent predominantly on the sidelines did not help and he remained a spectator for the opening few weeks.

Even now he admits to not being fully up to speed. But if Saturday was Wyke still building himself up, then League One defenders had better watch out in a few weeks.

McCall insists he will not allow Wyke to rest on his laurels. "A lot of hard training" is in store over the new few days.

But maybe it would be wiser to wrap the star striker in cotton wool and make doubly sure that nothing could possibly unsettle him. He is that important to team plans.

Wyke provided the focal point that has been lacking. City may have been racking up the goals but they had still lacked that strong figure who could make the ball stick and bloody defenders' noses.

It helped hugely on Saturday that Bristol Rovers were missing both of their first-choice centre backs on international duty.

City may have timed that well but, as McCall pointed out, that balanced out the luck of running into Walsall straight after they brought in West Brom's hot attacking prospect Tyler Roberts.

In the absence of Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney, Rovers' back-up centre halves Jonathan Burn and Tom Broadbent got battered.

Burn, in particular, had a shocker as Wyke pulverised him throughout. He was caught out for all three goals.

The final hours of deadline day saw City desperately chasing an attacking midfielder – Richie Towell, Fredrik Ulvestad and long-time target Ali Crawford had all cropped up.

But the "slight frustration" that McCall admitted to at not landing at least one more name quickly disappeared as his players revelled in the Valley Parade sunshine.

He had been impressed with the attitude in training since the three-goal surrender at the Banks's Stadium.

An intense Thursday session was followed with another viewing of the Walsall game, highlighting the obvious shortcomings but finishing with a feel-good factor from those City had scored themselves.

On Saturday, they were at it from the off – barring a Billy Bodin drive wide just 12 seconds in.

Nicky Law was given a free reign behind the front two, while Alex Gilliead eagerly patrolled the right flank. City sensed rich pickings from Bristol's soft centre.

The predators lined up for every corner. Vincelot was so close with an early header that most of the stadium thought it was in.

The first goal soon followed. Vincelot again jumped well to meet Tony McMahon's set-piece and Wyke left Burn in another postal district to volley home under no pressure.

Another corner should have seen City go two up but Law's near-post flick flew narrowly over the bar.

Rovers almost sneaked an equaliser completely against the run of play when Colin Doyle was caught in no man's land by Lee Brown's deep cross.

Harrison kept it in play to take the keeper out the equation but Nathaniel Knight-Percival produced an excellent goalline block with his right knee to deny Byron Moore as Doyle scrambled back behind him.

Knight-Percival's right arm played its part as City doubled their lead. A little block on the unfortunate Burn gave Wyke enough head-start to meet McMahon's corner unchallenged with a booming header.

McMahon was again involved in the build-up for the hat-trick goal. His cross-field pass picked out the run of Jake Reeves, who did very well to hook the ball across in full flight.

Wyke, with Burn again in his wake, risked a collision with the far post as he nodded it home and sent the place into raptures.

A late reply from Bodin, his sixth goal in seven games, was not going to spoil a day which signalled the return of City – and Wyke – to the form we've been waiting for.