STUART McCall delivered a timely winter warmer on the coldest night of the season.

City defrosted their promotion drive with a first win since New Year’s Day – and first since McCall retook the reins.

And fittingly it was the man who secured his last victory at the Valley Parade helm on New Year’s Day 2018 who repeated the trick.

The honeymoon period looked to be waning for McCall when City trailed at the break to League Two’s bottom side.

But the second half was a different story with Shay McCartan, a McCall signing, popping up with two good finishes to restore the long-overdue smiles.

Lee Novak’s quality effort in stoppage time put the seal on a faith-restoring evening.

This was a battle between two managers who never bothered with the motto, ‘don’t go back’.

McCall and Stevenage counterpart Graham Westley boast a combined nine different spells and 1,200 games with their respective clubs.

Westley, one of the more contentious touchline figures in the lower leagues, returned for his fourth reign in December.

Stevenage won 3-2 against Phil Parkinson’s Bantams on his last Valley Parade visit in 2014 but this was the first time that McCall and Westley had crossed paths.

Both bosses made four changes from the weekend with McCall handing first starts to Kurtis Guthrie against his old club and Dylan Mottley-Henry.

Hope Akpan replaced the injured Callum Cooke, who ricked his back in training, and McCartan got his first chance for the man who bought him from Accrington three years ago.

The team McCall inherited from Gary Bowyer a week ago were also hunting their first victory since New Year’s Day – an eight-match winless run that has seen them drop out the back of the play-off places.

They went into the game only goal difference off Cheltenham in seventh but had played two more.

The Valley Parade ground staff had worked hard to make the pitch playable despite the effects of Storm Ciara that had affected City’s training plans.

It wasn’t a great surface – but then that has been the case for some time.

Players had to be wary of the unpredictable bounce and a couple of early balls died when they hit the heavy surface.

Mottley-Henry was caught by a nasty lunge from Ben Nugent, who picked up the night’s first booking. Guthrie won a dangerous knockdown from Jake Reeves’ set-piece in the six-yard box but Stevenage scrambled it away.

It was noticeable again that City were trying to put in plenty of crosses.

McCartan, playing wide on the left, clipped a deep one that Anthony O’Connor did well to keep alive and Mottley-Henry tested keeper Paul Farman with a far-post flick.

Stevenage needed the win just as much with a five-point gap to bridge at the bottom. Diaguely Dabo’s shot was charged down by Ben Richards-Everton but it was mainly City setting the early pace and Dan Kemp was booked for dragging back Connor Wood on the break.

But the visitors, who went into the night with the division’s worst away record, stunned Valley Parade with a 26th-minute opener.

It was a thumping finish from Charlie Carter into the roof of the net after the winger was set up by Diabo – but McCall will be wondering why his team backed off to give him so much space to shoot.

The atmosphere was a world away from the buzz of Saturday with the crowd well down. Now there was a bit of noticeable tension as City trailed a side with only three wins all season.

Stevenage’s away support was a fraction of Grimsby’s travelling army but their buoyant mood further improved when Guthrie, still his former club’s top scorer on five, scuffed a 25-yarder well wide.

Stevenage were growing in confidence from the goal and Dabo fizzed one over the bar after again finding room outside the City box.

Adam Henley and Stevenage defender Scott Cuthbert were both shaken up by a crunching challenge. Henley, who got injured in the first meeting between the teams in August, was able to carry on after treatment but Cuthbert hobbled off just before the break.

By then, City could have been level as Lee Novak played in McCartan on goal. But Farman pulled off a fine save, getting enough on the shot to turn it inches wide of the post.

It was the closest McCall’s men had come and Akpan, who had flitted in and out, fired over before the whistle brought a few disgruntled boos.

City needed a lift to start the second half – and got it four minutes in.

A loose pass out of defence from Stevenage went straight to McCartan, who swept a sweet first-timer into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

The mood instantly transformed as the Kop sprang to life. And it quickly got better with a second goal for the Irishman five minutes later.

Wood was the provider from the left wing and his cross was calmly steered home by McCartan at the far post.

City were in the driving seat but could not afford to sit back after blowing leads in their previous three home games.

And they almost embarrassed themselves with a comical moment near their own penalty area as Richard O’Donnell fluffed a clearance and then frantically tried to head the loose ball away before Stevenage could get a shot off.

But McCartan had the sniff of a first City hat-trick since Charlie Wyke’s against Bristol Rovers in September 2017.

Wood spotted him unmarked to pull back a corner to the edge of the box where his fiercely-struck volley was beaten out by an unsuspecting Farman. A yard either side and the keeper would have had no chance.

Farman also thwarted Reeves from the follow-up but the flag was up for offside against the midfielder.

Stevenage were starting to throw more men forward as they chased the game. McCall countered by adding Dylan Connolly’s pace in place of Guthrie.

McCartan continued to hunt for more and had Farman sprawling with another low drive. The ball came loose but the keeper did just enough to put off Mottley-Henry from the rebound.

City stayed on the front foot and Mottley-Henry continued his eye-catching efforts with a fizzing half-volley that just cleared the Stevenage bar.

But the Bantams put the lid on it in stoppage time. Stevenage had everyone upfield as Tom Soares’ backheel was intercepted in his own box by Harry Pritchard.

Novak timed his run from inside his own half to latch on to his long pass and beat Farman with the coolest of finishes.