EVEN the mascots are getting involved in the City formation debate these days.

Well before the game, Gary Bowyer had found himself accosted by one of the youngsters during their tour of Valley Parade and asked if he would be playing 4-4-2.

No doubt the lad had been put up to it by his dad but it reminded the Bantams boss there was no escaping the issue that seems to have dominated every football discussion.

Junior, and no doubt his old man, would therefore have been delighted with how Saturday’s morale-restoring victory was achieved.

Bowyer playfully argued the semantics of how he had set up his team in the post-match media interviews.

But there was no disputing the fact that City had two genuine wingers on the pitch – something every fan seems to have been crying out for.

And not just the supporters. Bowyer, too, has been keen to add more wide men to his weaponry.

Sean Scannell’s departure, while on the face of it allowing an established one to leave, opened the way for City to bring two in.

Getting Scannell and Eoin Doyle off the books, half of the striker’s sizeable wage at least as part of his loan deal with Swindon, created enough space for five new players.

The sight of Dylan Connolly hugging one touchline and Harry Pritchard cutting in from the other underlined the sense of allowing Scannell the chance to stay in League One with Blackpool.

Callum Cooke came on for an influential cameo from the bench, providing some forward momentum in a central midfield that had looked flat up to that point.

Bowyer had been tracking the Peterborough man patiently throughout the transfer window – but only got the green light to make a move once Doyle had moved on.

The pieces in the jigsaw are, hopefully, starting to come together as the City boss has been confident they would.

With the window shut, he can focus on moulding his squad – as it has now become – into an effective unit and playing the way he wants.

The time for tinkering, he insisted, has now passed.

Whether that means playing with two wingers every week now or not, the options are available.

Zeli Ismail is another after finally shaking the troublesome hamstring issues that have kept him on ice.

His introduction was game-changing – his premature farewell after being shown a second yellow card in stoppage time slightly farcical.

Bowyer went on the offensive about referees being unable to cope with the size of the occasion at Valley Parade. It is an argument that will resonate with every fan who suffered City’s last six-year stint in this division.

Certainly, Lancashire official Leigh Doughty seemed to be swallowed up by the size of the arena.

Northampton boss Keith Curle looked like a 1970s PE teacher in his tracksuit on the touchline. But it was the first-year official, who does that job for a living, who needed to stay behind for detention.

Saturday was only his fifth game since being promoted from the National League. His previous highest audience was 3,712 at Newport.

Ismail got the dubious honour of becoming his first dismissal for two “nothingy” incidents; the first a foul but nothing more, the second for minimal involvement in some handbag-swinging with Northampton defender Jordan Turnbull.

Having shown only one yellow card for the first 79 minutes, Doughty suddenly got the bug with a flurry late on. The result of which is that Ismail will sit out Saturday’s return to former club Walsall.

Bowyer hot-footed it from his press duties to chase after the referee’s assessor and register his complaints. But there is no getting Ismail off because you cannot appeal bookings.

Ironically, Curle felt the referee’s performance had been affected by his opposite number “having a go” at him at half-time.

Bowyer was making a point about Northampton’s time-wasting as they milked every opportunity from the moment Charlie Goode had nodded them in front.

Bowyer cornered fourth official Anthony Moore to question the number of times the visitors had kicked the ball away and the time taken in possession by keeper David Cornell.

City should have been celebrating the lead themselves on 13 minutes when James Vaughan latched on to Pritchard’s flicked header in the Northampton box.

A fourth goal of the season surely beckoned for the City skipper but he never really got the ball under control and his low stab stuck under the body of the advancing Cornell.

Seven minutes later, Northampton were in front as Joe Martin’s corner was headed in by Goode.

Having seen Crewe claw their way back and ultimately overhaul City the previous week, the home side now had to prove they could do the same.

It was something that had proved beyond them last season when falling behind pretty much guaranteed defeat.

But Bowyer’s men mounted a recovery mission that would produce a first comeback victory at Valley Parade since Charlie Wyke’s double had sunk Swindon in March 2017.

Clayton Donaldson went close from a Pritchard cross but City needed to find another gear at half-time. The front two needed more support from midfield; some belief to back them up around the box.

The second half was a different story with the hosts on top from the start.

Pritchard and Paudie O’Connor both went agonisingly close from corners and Donaldson, who never stopped running, was denied on the line by Martin.

Even then, the clatter he took from Cornell in nudging a goal-bound effort past him looked a fair shout for a penalty. Not with this referee, though.

Richard O’Donnell produced an athletic tip-over to deny Vadaine Oliver a Northampton second – a save that became even more crucial three minutes later when City levelled.

Ismail beat his man all ends up and drilled in a cross-shot that a panicky Michael Harriman diverted into his own net on his first Northampton appearance, although Donaldson was later claiming the final touch on social media.

O’Donnell again thwarted Oliver from another dangerous counter before City’s second-half onslaught got its full reward.

Kelvin Mellor’s header was brilliantly kept out by Cornell but O’Connor was in the right place to hoover up the loose ball.