CRAWLEY was the venue where it first hit Phil Parkinson about the sheer size of the task of rousing a comatose Bradford City.

Nearly nine years on and another sleepwalking display in this compact corner of Sussex will be giving Gary Bowyer a few restless nights.

Not to mention the 509 unfortunates who wasted their weekend on a 500-mile round trip to witness as abject a performance as the Bantams have dished up all season.

There have been some poor displays – the first half at Plymouth was another stinker – but none stooped to this low.

Forget the final score, that was flattering in extreme for the visitors, this was simply woeful.

Second best in every department, plodding, off the pace, and unforgivably accepting of the outcome.

And all this against a Crawley team who began the day in a lowly 16th with only one win from their previous 13 games.

In the shadow of Gatwick airport, City’s promotion ambitions were well and truly grounded after a budget airline effort.

This was not the Parkinson side of September 2011 making their first visit to a ground that has not really moved on from Crawley’s non-league past.

This was a team unbeaten since November, one on the verge of the automatic places. One still unbelievably only out of the top three on goal difference – demonstrating how wide-open/ordinary the race to escape from League Two has become.

But the euphoria of grabbing that late but well-earned point at Swindon the week before soon disappeared on a dismal day when City never got going.

Recent results have masked the performance level at times; Bowyer’s men have not convinced as genuine promotion candidates despite continuing to raise the points tally.

Saturday’s slap in the face was a reality check that it has got to improve to avoid the genuine risk of slipping out the back of the play-off picture.

While third place remains tantalisingly in touch, it is becoming almost as tight behind City now.

There is little margin for error with a blanket of only three points currently covering seven clubs down to Colchester – the next away destination just over a week from now.

A first loss in nine games is hardly a reason for losing your head.

But City’s stumbling shows on the road will only heap the pressure on to maintaining their strong record at Valley Parade.

It is three months since the Bantams last celebrated success on their travels at second-from-bottom Morecambe. A return of four points out of a possible 18 since is not the stuff of a team aiming for the next level.

They have got away with it to an extent against opponents on wretched runs. Recent draws at Leyton Orient and Carlisle could have been far worse if the hosts had possessed a bit more confidence and self-belief about them.

City weren’t so lucky at the weekend. Crawley sensed an opportunity from the timid response to the opening exchanges and seized it.

The contrast in the sides could be summed up with the two Palmers.

Ollie, the Crawley centre forward, bullied a Bantams backline that played like they had never met each other before.

Matty, in contrast, was totally overrun in City’s midfield as Crawley carved their way through with ease.

And all this while Eoin Doyle looked on in bemusement; a distant, helpless spectator for much of what went on.

This was not how the script had been written for his return – and yet, it felt typical.

The announcement that Doyle was starting straight away having been hauled back from Swindon was greeted with universal optimism.

So too the revelation that City would be playing 4-4-2, the fabled formation that apparently never loses.

On Championship manager maybe – but in wet, dank reality things soon looked very different.

Memories of being isolated and left to feed off tit-bits last season must have come flooding back for a striker used to everything he touched turning to goals in Swindon’s red.

Unfortunately, it was like he had never been away for City, deprived of the service that had fuelled his prolific tally for the division’s leaders – who, incidentally, carried on fine without him as they dispatched Crewe.

Doyle and James Vaughan should be a mouth-watering front two at this level. But only if they are given something to work with.

There was one big moment just before half-time as Dylan Connolly's advance drew Crawley keeper Glenn Morris out of his goal.

Their challenge on the edge of the box left the inviting net unguarded as the loose ball dropped for Doyle.

But a first City strike to add to his 23 with Swindon was ripped from his grasp by home defender Jamie Sendles-White.

It was the sort of block that the Bantams have trademarked, hurling himself in the passage of the ball to deflect it past the post.

A fantastic last-gasp effort from the centre half – although Doyle will know he still had plenty of the goal to aim at.

The body language experts among the travelling City contingent had been clocking every movement from the Irishman to detect how much he had wanted to be there.

A tally of five goals out of six attempts in shooting practice, according to one statistician on the away terrace, suggested he was primed to carry on where he had left off prior to his loan recall.

But this was the one that got away.

By that stage City were 2-0 down and up against it. Pulling a goal back right on the break may have altered the course of the contest, failure to do so meant that it just followed the inevitable path.

City had cut their own throats with both goals. The defensive discipline of which they have been so rightly proud completely deserted them.

The build-up each time began from a City throw-in.

Palmer had already sent out a warning signal with a thumping header against the underside of the bar but the message went unheeded.

Nathan Ferguson’s header was not dealt with by either centre half and Palmer brushed off Ben Richards-Everton to fire Crawley’s opener.

Then Ashley Nadesan slipped too easily through Adam Henley to tee up Palmer again, his finish once more crashing off the woodwork but this time bouncing the right side of the line.

Richard O’Donnell did at least deny the home frontman a hat-trick with a tip-over in the second half.

But Aramide Oteh’s late scrambled response, his fifth goal of the season, provided nothing more than a misleading look to the inevitable verdict.