THE reality check was delivered after the final whistle, not once but twice.

First, the anticipation of topping a league table for the first time in 11 years was dashed by news that Crewe had struck two late goals to assume sole control of League Two by a couple of points.

Then Gary Bowyer announced that Clayton Donaldson’s absence was not a brief one and he was the latest addition to a growing list of lengthy casualties.

Read more: Donaldson injury takes gloss off win

That brought the mood down a bit as City face up to life without a genuine target man for the next two months at the very least.

Nobody can hold the ball up like Donaldson and the loss of that “glue” up front will hurt.

But City continue to ride the blows and find different ways to get the job done.

Three wins in a row, six out of eight – the steely-eyed determination to negotiate every hurdle placed in their way shows no sign of wilting.

There is no hint of a team feeling sorry for themselves or blaming the world when the going becomes testing; it’s chalk and cheese compared with last season’s flops.

Others continue to step up to the plate; with no Donaldson, who could have foreseen the other local lad, Danny Devine, would pop up with his first goal after three years of trying?

Another name to add to the leader board in the training ground – and the ever-expanding list of “unsung heroes” that swell the scoring column.

Shay McCartan against Swindon, Aramide Oteh at Morecambe and now the quiet Devine suddenly thrusting himself into the spotlight as the Bantams keep delivering.

For a fair while, it seemed that the former St Bede’s pupil would be the man to send City to the League Two summit for the first time since September 2008.

It would have made some storyline – but had to be rewritten as the game headed into stoppage time with the news of Crewe’s last-gasp one-two to sink Eoin Doyle’s Swindon.

That maintained the Railwaymen’s two-point cushion on Bowyer’s resurgent Bantams, who instead edged into second in the congested leading pack.

But while it delayed the chance to dust off the “remember when” feature from that time when Exeter were brushed aside 4-1 by Stuart McCall’s team – Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and Kings of Leon number one, if you’re interested – it has probably helped to keep a lid on rising expectations.

That may not be a bad thing. Premature giddiness over a season not quite a third of the way through creates an added tension of its own.

Witnessing the nerve-tingling closing moments as Crawley chased an equaliser gave a glimpse of the pressure City and their fans will have to live through as the promotion marathon unfolds.

Wearing the extra target of league leaders just ups that ante further. Sometimes being the chaser can be easier than the chased.

Having negotiated a “banana skin” at Morecambe, a result which looked more impressive with the Shrimps’ subsequent success away to Colchester, hopes have naturally been high going into a home double header.

Back-to-back games at Valley Parade before a trip to Macclesfield offered the delicious prospect of a points feast to really accelerate the building momentum.

But long-term City watchers will have taken a more cautious view.

How often have we been in a similar position only for the gremlins to slip into the seemingly smooth-running machine and wreak havoc?

Rewind to 2008 where City’s reign at the top lasted just one game – a home humbling against bottom club Bournemouth.

So, to kick off the week with a gritty victory against lively opponents, particularly minus their previously ever-present striker, was another challenge dealt with.

Bowyer covered the loss of Donaldson as well as speedster Dylan Connolly by handing Oteh a first league start, playing one side of Vaughan with Zeli Ismail on the other.

The corporate confidence from the team’s current run was evident in a fast start where the plan seemed to involve giving Ismail the ball at all costs.

The winger’s domination of the ball, despite Crawley’s attempts to shadow him with two white shirts, was rewarded after 18 minutes.

Bez Lubala could not get back in time to help out left back Josh Doherty, allowing Ismail the space to tease and beat him with a low cross that was dispatched by the arriving Harry Pritchard.

The City duo combined again in identical fashion 10 minutes later but Pritchard could not keep his shot down.

His departure at the break with a jarred back was a further problem to be solved.

Devine’s arrival to replace him suggested a sensible presence in the middle of the park – not a source of the second goal.

But within three minutes, the substitute had taken Oteh’s lay-off in his stride, added a touch and then had a pop from outside the box – a generous deflection off Jordan Tunnicliffe leaving keeper Glenn Morris hopelessly rooted to the spot.

As Valley Parade rocked, City threatened once more. Ismail teased and tormented Doherty before his cross looked to put a third goal on a plate for Oteh.

The striker did nothing wrong with his first-time attempt from close range – but Morris extended his body to block brilliantly with his right leg.

Games can swing on such moments and Crawley sensed a potential lifeline.

With Lubala very much a live threat, the visitors descended on City’s goal.

O’Donnell saved Lubala’s looping deflection and then matched opposite number Morris with an equally fine block from David Sesay.

But Lubala was inevitably at the hub of Crawley’s 81st-minute response which was confidently tucked away by Reece Grego-Cox to extend a run of scoring in every league game since the end of March.

Bowyer had spent the morning watching England’s rugby union heroes defy Australia in the World Cup.

He was particularly impressed by the way they had defended their line and used it as a motivational tool to press his team about the importance of little wins.

That was in evident as they faced heavy flak from Crawley in the final minutes. Lubala and Tunnicliffe went close but the Bantams did not break.

Another battle conquered and the points secured, the focus quickly switches to Port Vale. Another very “winnable” home game in most eyes; another significant obstacle in Bowyer’s.