January 2015: CHELSEA 2 CITY 4 (Stead 41, Morais 75, Halliday 82, Yeates 90)

THERE are two words I intend to say to Jon Stead should our paths ever cross again: “I’m sorry”.

No doubt, the veteran striker’s response would be along the lines of that infamous “so what” he uttered post-match during City’s unforgettable FA Cup journey in 2015.

But I’ve carried the guilt for long enough now. I should have given him a 10 at Stamford Bridge.

There, it’s finally out in the open. A great weight has been lifted with this “mea culpa” for my match ratings.

I remember getting slated by a few fans for not awarding perfect marks across the board after City’s stunning comeback win at Chelsea. They had a point, to be fair.

But one man stood head and shoulders above the rest for an imperious display that was without error. The ultimate perfect performance – and I handed him a measly nine in the paper …

So as Stead stands on the eve of breaking new footballing ground at the grand age of 37, it felt like the time was right to publicly apologise for my numerical meanness.

Stead may have had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus/Tiger Woods/Rory McIlroy but he is on the brink of achieving a first in his near two-decade playing career and taking a team into the Football League.

Harrogate Town are just one win away from becoming arguably the smallest club to have ever gained access to the top four divisions.

Beat Notts County at Wembley on Sunday and their name will feature alongside the likes of Bolton in City’s fixture list for next season.

And what a storyline it would be if Stead were to pop up with the decisive goal as the man for the big occasion.

He certainly proved that during his second spell under Phil Parkinson at Valley Parade in the cup run that gripped the nation.

It was Stead’s goal that saved City from a potential upset in the first round against Halifax – and his manager from growing pressure.

That had all been forgotten by the time the Bantams had swept past non-league Dartford and Millwall, Stead again scoring in both ties, to land that lucrative trip to west London.

Played as the target man with James Hanson to his left, Stead might have expected to spend most of his afternoon dropping back to help out defensively dealing with Chelsea corners and set-pieces.

Instead, he gave a lesson in centre-forward craftsmanship that their illustrious hosts could not handle. No wonder Stead would describe it as the “best day of my career”.

But there was a confidence, almost swagger, about his play that was replicated throughout the City ranks.

Parkinson’s men had not turned up just to be tourists, whatever the rest of the football world might have thought. There was genuine belief inside the dressing room that the seemingly impossible was anything but.

The game plan, obviously, didn’t take going two down into account.

When Ramires added to Gary Cahill’s opener with seven minutes of the first half to go, the predicted rout looked on the cards.

At that stage, the 6,000-strong travelling army would have taken just one special moment – a City goal they could cheer to the rafters amid an inevitable defeat.

The instance of magic was not long in coming – and we all know what happened next.

Chelsea thought they had the game won at 2-0 but the Bantams were not out for the count.

Stead fought for possession on the edge of the area before unleashing a ferocious drive that Petr Cech could only palm into the roof of the net.

Stead had maintained his goal-per-round run that would continue with another Premier League scalp against his former club Sunderland in City’s next tie.

Belief from his thundering strike surged through the team at half-time. Chelsea preened through the second half – and paid the ultimate price.

Filipe Morais sent the away hordes into ecstasy when sweeping home the equaliser. Then Andy Halliday transported them into dreamland with that precise first-timer from Stead’s lay-off.

Jose Mourinho had thrown on Eden Hazard et al by that point. But City – and Stead – were not finished.

Parkinson argued with the fourth official for showing seven added minutes. He had no need to fear.

Stead dinked a glorious round the corner touch for sub Mark Yeates and the City history books had a new glorious entry.

CHELSEA: Cech, Christensen, Zouma, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Mikel (Fabregas 70), Oscar, Ramires, Remy (Hazard 76), Drogba, Salah (Willian 70).

CITY: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Morais (Clarke 89), Liddle, Knott (Yeates 80), Halliday (Routis 87), Stead, Hanson.