COLIN Doyle’s gaze kept drifting towards the TV screen in the corner of the Valley Parade press room.

As he described the disappointment of a season’s work coming to nothing, his eyes were drawn to the game going on silently above him.

Millwall were playing Middlesbrough. Millwall, the team that a year ago City were about to tackle at Wembley for the Championship place that the Lions have comfortably made their own.

Like staring at the sun, Doyle knew he shouldn’t look but found the temptation too strong.

“It’s rubbing it in watching them,” he admitted. “But look at Millwall, they kept a lot of their players from the year before and had a right crack again.

“We lost half of our team that lost at Wembley, which wasn’t good. Maybe if we’d kept them we might have had a better go at it.

“But it is what it is. The second half of the season was nowhere near good enough.”

The keeper is one of the few who can hold his head up after a run which has seen reputations suffer across the board.

Few have escaped the scrutiny in a demoralising 2018 which has seen the Bantams drop from the thick of the play-off hunt to mid-table nothingness.

The end of the mini-revival post-Blackpool on Saturday finally put paid to those crazy dreams of clambering back to the top six.

As Doyle said himself, City are where they deserve to be. And that’s out of contention.

Simon Grayson had spoken before the game of his admiration for good friend Chris Powell’s run in the London Marathon last weekend.

When asked if he’d ever been tempted, Grayson laughed it off saying that he wouldn’t be up to lasting the pace.

It was an apt way of describing his team’s effort over the long slog of a football season.

In League One terms, City hit the wall just over the halfway stage. They are just about crawling to the finish line, hopes of personal bests or staying with the leading bunch scattered along the wayside.

Powell’s Southend weren’t much better in a poor game. But they were clinical when it mattered; sensing and seizing the opportunity when they realised that their hosts lacked a cutting edge.

City did okay in parts but you don’t get points for just trying. There wasn’t enough quality when it mattered – and that’s pretty much the verdict on the season as a whole.

At least with the play-offs officially erased from the agenda, the focus can switch entirely to where the club go next.

This is building up to be a significant summer in so many ways.

It is not just the managerial decision but that will shape a lot of what will follow.

The stay-or-go argument will rage among supporters until Grayson has a serious sit-down with chairman Edin Rahic to hammer out whether the current arrangement should be extended into a long-term one.

At this stage, it appears a 50-50 call. Grayson is making the right noises that he wants to stay – while making it abundantly clear that he wants strong guarantees on several areas of the club before he would commit.

On the other hand, the club could point out that he was brought in with the job of arresting the wobble that did for Stuart McCall and rescuing their place in the top six.

On that score, he has not succeeded. Results like Doncaster and the horror show of Blackpool would be high up in the minus column even before Saturday’s setback.

There is much to be discussed between both parties as an increasingly-jaundiced fanbase wait for clear direction on City’s plans.

Players, too, are currently in limbo until they know for sure who their boss will be. Those out of contract have not been given any indication if they could be coming back next season.

It’s fair to say that plenty needs to change anyway. Whoever gets shipped out, there will not be too much sympathy from supporters who have seen five years of regular progress seemingly frittered away in the space of a few months.

Disappointment comes with the job description as a football fan. Nobody with claret and amber leanings needs reminding of that.

But has there ever been such a Jekyll and Hyde season as this one?

And yet, the maths suggested that the play-offs were not completely out of the question with three games left.

Maybe in a campaign of such extreme highs and lows there could be one last dramatic twist. Or maybe not.

The way the other results fell, the City scoreline was academic in the end. Even a win wouldn’t have mattered.

But there was an irony about Rory McArdle choosing the day when the play-off dream was consigned to dust to score his first goal for Scunthorpe since leaving Valley Parade last summer.

This time last year he was lifting the roof off the place with an identical near-post header against Fleetwood that would send City to Wembley.

Sadly, there was little of that sense of occasion as the current Bantams toiled with Southend.

Callum Guy, once more the pick of the bunch, forced a good save from Mark Oxley in the first half.

But the main point of interest was the subbing of the sub as Dominic Poleon was “hooked” an hour after coming on. Having replaced the injured Kai Bruenker, the striker had an afternoon to forget and his departure was cruelly cheered by some.

Most of City’s chances had fallen his way, including Oxley’s parry from Timothee Dieng’s header that fell at his feet no more than a couple of yards out. Poleon’s right-foot stab at it merely directed the rebound straight into the keeper’s midriff with the goal beckoning.

Southend skipper John White showed how it should be done when he nipped in behind Matt Kilgallon to loop home a header from Stephen McLaughlin’s cross. It was McLaughlin’s 14th assist – City midfield take note.

And the visitors clinched their third win in the week – all of them clean sheets – with a deflected strike on the counter after Nicky Law was caught dawdling on the ball.

Resisting the chance to cross early, his pass inside had Guy struggling and Dru Yearwood picked it off to race 40 yards. He laid off to Marc-Antoine Fortune whose effort flicked off Nathaniel Knight-Percival and up and over Doyle.


CITY: Doyle 7, McMahon 6, Knight-Percival 6, Kilgallon 6, Warnock 6, Gilliead 7, Guy 8, Dieng 6 (McCartan 83min), Lund 6, Bruenker n/a (Poleon 15min, 4; Law 73min), Wyke 6. Subs (not used): Chicksen, Vincelot, Patrick, Raeder.

SOUTHEND: Oxley 8, Demetriou 6, White 7, Kyprianou 6, Bwomono 6, Yearwood 7, Mantom 6, McLaughlin 7, Cox 6 (Gard 90min), Fortune 7 (Ladapo 88min), Robinson 6 (Kightly 65min). Subs (not used): McGlashan, Harrison, Mitchell-Nelson, Bishop.