THE build-up had been dominated by the controversy surrounding Stuart McCall’s return to Valley Parade.

His appearance at the club for Sky duties last night – his first since being sacked two months ago – had been the pre-match talking point amid strong suggestions that the owners were not happy with the broadcasters over his presence.

Neither chairman Edin Rahic, who is still in Germany with his family, or Stefan Rupp, currently away in New Zealand, were in an audience not surprisingly well below the usual number.

But any fears they may have had about the McCall sideshow hijacking the telly were dispelled by a City display light years away from recent efforts.

McCall, who inadvertently dropped into calling City “we” during his punditry, will have been just as chuffed about that as his successor Simon Grayson. He has taken no pleasure from the constant struggles that have sent his old team plummeting down the division.

Anything was going to be better after the Blackpool humiliation.

But City gave it a real go against a side in the hunt for automatic promotion, raising the bar – admittedly a very low one lately – with easily their best home display of this troubled 2018.

They could not turn that into three points, despite having a man advantage for the final half-hour after Shrewsbury centre half Omar Beckles was sent off, but the effort on show was a much-needed tonic on and off the field.

Shrewsbury had laid on free coaches for their fans four days on from the expense of travelling to Wembley for the Checkatrade Trophy final.

But the frustrated City stayaways would have probably rejected a similar offer as they made their point about a season that has plummeted downhill.

The 5-0 demolition at Blackpool had been the nadir, many of the travelling supporters venting their anger throughout as the team fell apart. The swathes of empty seats yesterday told their story.

While the official crowd was recorded as 18,997, the actual turn-out was probably around half that.

Those who did make it were rewarded with an entertaining clash, despite the pitch, and a bit of faith was thankfully restored for the remaining three weeks of the campaign.

Grayson had not ripped up the team sheet as much as he had hinted. But there were five changes from the Fylde coast fiasco, including a first start for Kai Bruenker.

The raw German’s presence up front with Charlie Wyke in a solid 4-4-2 line-up demonstrated a back-to-basics approach for a manager who had won only one of his previous seven games in charge.

With Romain Vincelot ruled out by his badly-cut knee, Tony McMahon took the captain’s armband on a night when Grayson demanded a show of pride.

After City’s win at Shrewsbury in November, there was only four points between the teams. That gulf had grown to 28 by the time they kicked off yesterday.

It was a shocking demonstration of the different directions the two clubs have gone since then.

Those who turned up looked to get behind City and Timothee Dieng, one of the recalls to the team, glanced an early header wide from McMahon’s corner.

Colin Doyle parried an Alex Rodman drive but it was City making the fast start Grayson had wanted.

Warnock’s lofted cross was nodded back by Wyke for Alex Gilliead to warm Dean Henderson’s hands with a fierce first-time drive.

The Shrews keeper was called into flying action once more to push away a long-range thump from Warnock.

And then McMahon was inches over with a curling free-kick after Bruenker was pulled back just outside the box by Beckles.

The action was end-to-end with Matt Kilgallon making a crucial block in the box from Bryn Morris. But it was the most positive City had looked at Valley Parade in a long time and the fans responded.

Beckles was a lucky boy to escape a second booking for another trip on Bruenker. But City continued to press, close down and do everything that their manager had been asking of them since he came in.

Bruenker was enjoying himself and teed up Tyrell Robinson in the box. But the pitch had its say as the ball bobbled up just as he struck it, allowing Henderson to save comfortably.

Doyle needed two grabs to smother a close-range attempt by Jon Nolan after Shaun Whalley whipped a dangerous ball into the City box.

But it had been the best first half served up by the Bantams probably since the Oxford game in December and they earned the ovation at the break.

Shrewsbury, needing the win to keep pressure on the top two, looked to step it up in the second half. Rodman roamed menacingly into City territory before fizzing a drive over from 25 yards. Then Whalley teed up Nolan but Doyle dived low to his right to keep it out.

Gilliead’s response was blocked by Aristote Nsiala in front of Shrewsbury’s goal as the volume swelled once more.

Beckles then tested referee David Webb’s patience once too often with a foul on Knight-Percival – and got the red card that eluded him before.

That threatened to check Shrewsbury’s growing momentum but boss Paul Hurst threw on another striker as they adjusted to 3-4-2. Given their current position, almost guaranteed third spot regardless, there was no point in shutting up shop for a draw.

City were still pushing to make it back-to-back home wins and Wyke had their best chance to break the stalemate after 74 minutes, his header from Gilliead’s cross just looping over the angle of near post and bar with Henderson beaten.

Bruenker’s race was run soon after and he deserved the loud applause for a hard-working, honest shift. His endeavour summed up that of the team – it didn’t always come off but you couldn’t fault him for trying.

If only they could have shown more of this in the past couple of months.