October 2008: ACCRINGTON 2 CITY 3 (Boulding 80, Conlon 88, Thorne 89)

THEY were the first two signings that Stuart McCall made as City manager.

Today marks 13 years since Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne were unveiled by the then-rookie boss at Valley Parade.

McCall admitted that he knew nothing about the level when he accepted the challenge of taking charge of City’s first appearance in the fourth tier in a quarter of a century.

He had never played in the division – and had been coaching alongside Neil Warnock in the Premier League just months before.

It would prove to be an eye-opening introduction to management for McCall in more ways than one.

But there were all smiles in that first summer as he greeted the two experienced strikers that would spearhead his debut campaign.

Both would go to have differing fortunes in Bantam colours.

Thorne would deliver an impressive 31 goals in 77 league appearances – a return that could have been even more prolific but for injury frustrations.

Irishman Conlon became a bit of a cult figure with City fans, but not always for the right reasons.

He scored 17 times in 32 league games, half of them from the bench, but his time at the club would end in acrimony after the off-field drinking incident that badly derailed the promotion push in McCall’s second season.

The 2008-2009 campaign had begun with such high hopes after Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn had backed their manager with an increased player budget.

Five wins in the opening six games sent expectations through the roof before City typically caved to second-bottom Bournemouth at Valley Parade.

Another defeat at Shrewsbury and an unconvincing home draw with a Luton side propping up the rest on minus 18 points because of heavy deductions raised a few doubts as they made the short trip to Accrington in early October.

As expected, there were more away fans than home in the 3,012 crammed into the tiny Crown Ground as City looked to arrest their wobble.

The home side had lost five out of their last six games but those supporters filling the open terrace behind the goal were taking nothing for granted.

McCall had played down pre-match talk of the wheels coming off. But the evidence in Lancashire, for the most part, backed up the suggestion that City had lost their zip.

They did have the better early chances with Luke O’Brien fashioning a near-post header for Michael Boulding.

Kyle Nix and Dean Furman could have scored in a goal-mouth scramble before Boulding wastefully headed over from TJ Moncur’s cross.

But it was Accrington who struck first from a corner routine that McCall had warned his team about.

He had briefed his side to beware the low kick which skipper Peter Cavanagh stepped over for Jimmy Ryan to sweep into the City net.

As the Stanley Ultras made their voices heard, Joe Colbeck’s free-kick glanced off the Accrington wall and back off the bar.

But it got worse for the visitors five minutes before the break. Rhys Evans fluffed a clearance straight to John Miles and the winger sent in Terry Gornell to stroll through for an uncontested second goal.

The lack of drive in City’s play for the first 20 minutes of the second half indicated they had accepted defeat. There was no hint of any comeback.

Sub Conlon had made little impact as the game drifted towards its final knockings.

Then he won a flick-on and, out of nothing, Michael Boulding fired into the roof of the net just under the bar.

Straight away, half a dozen white shirts scrambled to retrieve the ball as hope was restored.

The minutes ticked by before Boulding was clipped to the left of the box. Paul McLaren’s free-kick was on the money and Conlon’s header powered in the equaliser.

Now City sensed a win that had been unthinkable 10 minutes earlier. It arrived when Colbeck rolled a pass into the path of Thorne to drill his ninth goal of the season as the fans at the far end – those who had not left early - went wild.

McCall looked more stunned than anyone. “I didn’t celebrate anything, even the final whistle,” he said, knowing the performance did not warrant the reward.

But it had been the most madcap 10 minutes in a campaign that would promise so much only to fall off a cliff and leave the manager considering his future by the end.

ACCRINGTON: Arthur, Cavanagh, Murdock, Edwards, King, Miles, Griffiths, J Mullin, Ryan (Procter 79), P Mullin, Gornell.

CITY: Evans, Moncur, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien, Colbeck, McLaren, Furman, Nix (Conlon 60), Boulding, Thorne.