City 2 Bury 2

IT LOOKED like a metaphor for City's attempts to begin repairing a fractured 2018.

Shay McCartan, a player who has taken as many knocks as any, clambered off the floor like a boxer refusing to be counted out.

Defying the energy-sapping Valley Parade surface, the Irishman held his footing and his nerve to bundle home the goal. An ugly but beautiful finish to bring some closure to the torture of the last month.

Only that was not the case. The devilment in this game had one final, wicked twist – another Bury equaliser as time expired.

That's football, as Greg Abbott and Timothee Dieng repeated in the post-match analysis. Another reminder that this beguiling sport does nobody any favours.

Amid the cliches and the angst, there was one positive conclusion. The Valley Parade crowd and their team seem to have re-engaged again.

The universal, if premature, joy at McCartan's scrappy finish felt like a cathartic moment; fans and players back onside after the trials and tribulations that have stalked City's season since that last win on New Year's Day.

Fears that the first game on from the latest Stuart McCall era would be hijacked by protests proved unfounded.

The absence of both owners, Edin Rahic missing his first home game for what we were told were pre-planned business commitments, helped to defuse that potential hand grenade.

Yet it still made for a strange afternoon where, up to City's two goals, the longest and loudest support had been shown for the sacked manager and a former player.

The McCall tribute, fittingly in the fourth minute, brought the ground to its feet; a minute's applause as the Kop led the chants in his honour.

McCall was obviously not there but I understand he was greatly appreciative of such a spontaneous and heartfelt reaction.

Then there was the return of James Hanson in Bury colours. His appearance for a touchline jog early in the second half provoked another roar of approval.

"He used to work in the Co-op," boomed the home fans with the same gusto they had reserved for the days when he was leading the City frontline to such heights as Villa Park, Stamford Bridge and Wembley. Even a couple of the other visiting substitutes joined in with the applause for the clearly-flattered big man.

And in all this, Abbott and Kenny Black were trying to construct a winning formula to banish the misery of the losing stretch that did for their close pal McCall.

It had been a challenging week for all since the trigger was pulled first thing on Monday morning – but none more so than for his coaching staff and Abbott, his one-time lodger and friend for over 30 years.

Abbott did not ask to be put in charge; he was certainly not keen on the caretaker mantle.

The head of recruitment has not been interested in being the boss again since a five-year tenure at Carlisle ended in September 2013. He has not applied for a single management job in that time.

But thrust into the role at Rahic's request, he approached it with the same tenacity he demonstrated during a decade of wearing the claret and amber.

He had the benefit of a near fully-fit squad to choose from; a luxury denied McCall during the alarming slide in form.

From no wingers at Oldham, Abbott suddenly had them all available and threw in Alex Gilliead and Tyrell Robinson to go with a traditional 4-4-2.

But it was Bury who began much sharper, a combination of one team playing without pressure and another riddled with such fragile confidence in evidence through the early exchanges.

Surely no team in League One has under-achieved more than the bottom-placed Shakers. A substantial wage bill thought to be paying up to £6,000 a week to their top earners and still nine points adrift from safety.

City's quality may have become shrouded by self-doubt of late; Bury's almost locked away by indifference to their desperate situation.

With seven points from three games under Ryan Lowe, they have suddenly started to play a bit. Even in a contest where the standard was inevitably dragged down by another terrible Valley Parade pitch, they did not look a side bottom of the pile.

A bitty first half burst into life just before the break. Dieng helped a ball over the top and suddenly Dominic Poleon was bearing down on goal.

But the City striker's ratio in one-on-ones is not a good one. And so it proved once more as he tried to blast through keeper Connor Ripley rather than going over and his attempt was smothered.

The weird atmosphere kicked up for the second half, undoubtedly helped by the reception to greet Hanson's warm-up.

Tony McMahon's free-kick clipped the top of the bar before the breakthrough came. Gilliead dribbled inside and his cross-shot was turned home first by Charlie Wyke and then decisively by a gleeful Dieng.

Bury responded by calling for Hanson, although he was not involved in the scrappy leveller five minutes later.

Peter Clarke's booming header was stopped on the line by Gilliead but the winger's two attempts to clear were blocked by Nathan Cameron, who diverted the ball in from close range.

Now Bury sensed a third win in four games, especially when City went down to ten men after Matt Kilgallon's red card.

Having taken one for the team with a booking on the halfway line, he saw yellow again ten minutes later after clipping George Miller.

City reorganised, the cool head of Ryan McGowan once more impressing at the back, and Colin Doyle pulled off a fantastic save to deny Hanson his dream return.

Then Nathaniel Knight-Percival lumped a long ball, one-time Bantams defender Greg Leigh fatally waited for it to bounce and McCartan nipped in to steam goalwards.

Ripley half-stopped his first attempt but McCartan's persistence was rewarded and Valley Parade erupted.

But that was not the end of the story. City could not clear one final Bury fling and there was just enough time for Miller to head past Doyle.

A fair result overall but achieved in the cruellest circumstances. That's football – and it hurts.