CHAMPAGNE bottle clenched in one hand, the other punching the air in celebration, Stuart McCall looked a picture of joy alongside a topless Peter Jackson in Cambridge’s away dressing room.

It was an iconic image from the night in April 1985 when the Bantams clinched promotion from Division Three with an emphatic 4-0 win at the Abbey Stadium.

The abiding memories from his first game back in the university city 35 years on will not be such fond ones.

In the horizontal rain and buffeting winds supplied by Storm Dennis, City’s hopes of a first away win in four months were blown away in a dramatic finish.

For the second time in three games since regaining the club hot-seat, McCall was cursing the concession of a goal in stoppage time.

He raged at referee Nick Kinseley afterwards and an assistant’s failure to spot a clear foul on Harry Pritchard on the halfway line in the build-up to the Cambridge winner.

But equally, once he has reviewed and analysed the details, McCall’s frustration and anger will turn to the soft resistance offered as the home side stormed forward for the second goal.

The way Paudie O’Connor too easily allowed his man inside, the way Jake Reeves was sucked into no man’s land in the penalty area, and the space that gave Samir Carruthers to drill in a low cross tucked home gleefully by fellow substitute Harvey Knibbs.

The goal was almost a carbon copy of Luke Hendrie’s that had ruined McCall’s latest managerial debut the previous Saturday. The exasperation will have cut just as deep.

City had been that close to riding the second-half storm when they were barely able to get out of their own territory, hemmed in by a combination of pressing Cambridge pressure and the vile weather whipping up to a maximum.

They were conditions for strong heads and strong hearts; blocks, clearances, putting anything in the way to protect what they had got.

And City so nearly managed to pull it off. That’s what will have really hurt.

To have hung on as long as they did in the eye of the Cambridge storm just increased the post-match bitterness.

But ultimately Saturday went the way of the previous nine away games without adding to those three successes on the road that seem so long ago.

A glance at the congested play-off picture suggested the damage of another loss on their travels was not too severe. The gap to seventh is still only a point.

But with 10 minutes to go, City had been up to fifth and seemingly back in the thick of it; a tantalising in-game mirage for the 801 hardy souls who ignored the severe weather warnings to accompany the club’s first trip to Cambridge in over a quarter of a century.

At least, they could lay claim to witnessing a rare jewel of Reeves’ first goal in Bantam colours.

He crowned the 43rd appearance of such a disrupted stint at the club with another energetic offering and a sharp finish from outside the box that promised so much.

True, the shot clipped Liam O’Neil on its way through to throw keeper Callum Burton completely out of his stride. But try wrenching that away from a player who has gone through hell and back in the past couple of years.

His first goal since March 2017 was fair reward for all the running he put in despite such sapping conditions. Once more his stats will have far outdone those of the rest of his team, as they have done in all three of McCall’s matches in charge.

There were other solid performances, particularly at the back until the late cave-in; this was no towel throwaway like the travelling no-shows that had hastened Gary Bowyer’s demise in the last month.

But coming out empty-handed from their defensive war of attrition will have just reinforced the feeling that City are going to come up short this season.

The question marks remain over a squad that many of us felt were equipped to last the journey in a division high on perspiration but generally lacking inspiration.

“Bloated” as McCall calls the number of personnel at his disposal but quantity does not necessarily equate to quality. He will have his work cut out to get them over the play-off line in these last dozen games.

Over 20 of that squad, including the loans, will not be under contract at the end of the season. McCall’s veiled warning afterwards made it clear that most of those have plenty to prove to show him they are worth sticking with beyond that.

That’s not to say a top-seven finish cannot be achieved. Saturday did show a willingness and confidence to get forward – in the wind-assisted first half at least – and the self-belief is clearly beginning to inch back.

You just hope that won’t be knocked too much by the events of the closing moments when a potentially hard-earned three points were transformed into another hard-luck story.

In hindsight, City should have pushed on more in a first half when the elements were at their backs and they were setting the tempo.

But the signs were there as half-time approached and Cambridge forced a double save from Richard O’Donnell while Paul Lewis put a flying header the wrong side of the post.

The second half was played almost exclusively at the City end. Lewis twice went close again, Harry Darling threatened and O’Donnell blocked again with a reactive knee.

As the bombardment grew, McCall threw on a third centre half to increase the level of protection.

But even feeding on attacking scraps, City still had the chance to make the game safe when Dylan Connolly burst upfield, the loose ball breaking to Lee Novak who fired against Burton’s chest.

From a potential game-settling 2-0, it became 1-1 seven minutes later as Idris El Mizouni’s half-cleared cross was rammed in by Darling.

Cambridge now came pouring forward in search of a fourth straight win and the precocious Tunisian teenager El Mizouni rattled the underside of the bar.

The fourth official’s board went up showing five long minutes to survive. City were wobbling.

Then Pritchard was illegally knocked off a 50-50 ball on halfway by Knibbs. It was not the heftiest contact but the City man had got a toe on it first and was clearly nudged over while off balance.

The officials saw nothing wrong as McCall shook his head on the far side, fearing what would happen next.

Cambridge still had half the pitch to cover but City’s ranks parted conveniently. Room opened up invitingly for the swarming yellow shirts.

El Mizouni drew Paudie O’Connor and Reeves together inside the box and Carruthers, back from two months out with personal issues, ploughed into the unmarked space to do the damage.