City 0 Charlton 1

THE rainbow flag in the open corner of Valley Parade was in two minds.

Blowing this way and that as Storm Brian battered away, it gave up the ghost by half-time and wrapped itself round the pole.

It was a clear indicator that the true winners on Saturday were the foul elements.

Throw in the rain and it made uncomfortable watching for the sturdy audience – with an equally unpleasant outcome to finish it off.

It was the weather's way of saying that we are officially entering the thick of the season. No more carefree afternoons in t-shirts and shorts, this is the real nitty-gritty of the campaign.

The fact that City approach the imminent changing of the clocks on a run of one point from the last nine available will convince some that they have had their time in the sun.

Third place may still be in their grasp but the chasers are closing in, some with games in hand.

The points cushion they enjoyed after the impressive win at MK Dons a fortnight ago has whittled away. The real gap now exists between themselves and the top two.

But while the nay-sayers might be sharpening their keyboards, let's approach Saturday's setback with some realism.

The list of unavailable players meant Stuart McCall's side were always going to be up against it. His post-match admission that he would have taken a point before kick-off was probably shared by the majority in the stands.

The Oldham game had come at a cost – and not just the potential fine on the table from the Football Association for the misconduct charge the club are ready to contest.

Adam Chicksen's injury was the hammer blow but two others that had gone under the radar at the time had an effect.

Paul Taylor felt a pull in his rib cage a couple of minutes before he was scheduled to be subbed. Then Dominic Poleon strained a hamstring shortly after coming on.

Neither are anything major but added to the other absentees, including Romain Vincelot and Tony McMahon, and you effectively have half of City's first-choice outfield line-up missing.

That is not being an apologist for a third home league loss in seven – but take such a chunk of key personnel out of any team and there will be a similar impact.

McCall countered the absences by bringing in Tom Field for only his second game in 12 and Timothee Dieng for a first start in two months. By the end, he had also handed out league debuts to Jacob Hanson and Tyrell Robinson.

Field returned at Adam Thompson's expense as McCall chose to stick with a specialist left back rather than break up the Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Matt Kilgallon axis that his back four has been built on so far.

Field, like the rest of the back four, was tested in conditions when defenders had to be at their most diligent.

But he gave arguably his most convincing performance in claret and amber before inevitable cramp forced him to make way before the end.

Dieng, too, was in the thick of it as he looked to break things up and aid the backline as balls swirled and whirled whichever way that took Brian's fancy.

The weather inevitably killed the contest in terms of quality, barring the exceptional goalkeeping from Charlton stopper Ben Amos to deny a point that City's battling effort should have earned.

McCall and opposite number Karl Robinson both like their teams to play the right way. Unfortunately, such admirable principles were never possible once both had seen the forecast.

Robinson had made up his mind on Thursday to stock his defence with added height and brawn and switched central defender Naby Sarr to left back.

It hardly made for the prettiest performance to mark a year since he left MK Dons for the Valley – but the Charlton boss was not complaining.

He rightly heaped all the plaudits on the shoulders of Amos, the Bolton loanee who performed acrobatics to thwart City's concerted pursuit of an equaliser.

It was Colin Doyle in the home goal who had produced the first highlight of the afternoon by stretching to tip over a wind-assisted whack from Ricky Holmes.

Billy Clarke, rightly afforded a generous reception on his return to Valley Parade, then nearly threw that hospitality back in City's face by cutting in on his favoured left foot and rifling just past the post.

It took City half an hour to muster a first genuine attempt – and Amos immediately signalled his intentions with an outstanding point-blank block from Charlie Wyke.

The front man's eyes lit up when Knight-Percival diverted Field's free-kick onto his head. But Amos met his close-range nod with an equally firm right hand to bat it out before catching the rebound.

Omari Patrick had been an incidental figure in the first half but saw more of the ball as City attacked the Kop.

Looking to take players on, it did not always come off. But he had Charlton on the back foot and was close with a deflected effort that narrowly cleared the bar.

The game was finally opening up as the Bantams pushed forward with intent – only to concede after 74 minutes.

Just as with Bury's opener the previous week, there was a hard luck tale in its creation as the referee and his assistant missed Holmes running the ball out of play.

Instead, the throw-in was awarded Charlton's way – and City, feeling the injustice, fatally let their concentration drop. Even McCall admitted he had looked away, expecting his own team to have the ball back.

So Hanson, just on in place of Field, was slow in tracking Chris Solly as he was allowed to cross to the back post to pick out Tariqe Fosu.

His volley was never likely to add to a rich tally of six goals from the previous four games – but it did turn into a precise pass for Jake Forster-Caskey to ram home from close in despite Kilgallon's presence on the line.

The centre half thought he had equalised from Alex Gilliead's corner as City responded well. But with the Kop ready to erupt, Amos clawed the ball back almost from the top of the net itself.

He also thwarted Wyke once more to ensure a frustrating finish to a difficult week. But like the storm, it is one that City hope will blow over.