NORMAL service had not quite resumed in Nailsworth – there wasn’t a vegan sausage roll or Quorn burger in sight.

But in this quirky village outpost on top of a hill in the Cotswolds, there was a hint of what football life could be like again.

What Forest Green’s eco-friendly home may have lacked in their own unique brand of matchday cuisine, it made up for with what we have missed more than anything – a crowd.

The few hundred season-ticket holders allowed back in as part of the EFL’s pilot events were warned to be on their best behaviour.

Frequent announcements came over the tannoy with a list of do’s and don’ts … mainly don’ts, including a bizarre warning not to face each other when using the toilet!

But it felt like a proper game again – City players getting barracked by the home crowd, even a small knot of travelling supporters peeking naughtily over a fence in the corner of the ground.

“Stuart, give us a wave” they chanted at one point as the manager willingly joined in.

In these weird and far from wonderful times, it was reassuringly familiar. Other things that we take for granted, though, were not so welcome.

The inconsistency of League Two refereeing and City’s defensive resistance being breached six minutes into the never-ending time he added on have not been missed.

The brave nine men had survived cross after cross, shot after shot, until one last-gasp lapse allowed the hosts off the hook.

In all honesty, a draw was probably the fairest outcome over the piece. But it still hurt like hell having given so much in such adversity.

That all stemmed from losing both centre halves to red card in an eight-minute spell when a reasonably sedate afternoon up to that point utterly lost the plot.

“Welcome to sleepy Gloucestershire” smiled one of the friendly club staff on the gate. But the place was roused with a vengeance from the hour mark.

Winding your way towards Forest Green’s well-hidden home – and don’t trust SatNav unless you want to joust with tractors through the narrowest of lanes – the landscape was reminiscent of a backdrop for Midsomer Murders.

Certainly, the ham acting that accompanied the game’s key moment, City’s second dismissal, would not have looked out of place in a chief inspector Barnaby investigation.

Paudie O’Connor, as with namesake Anthony eight minutes earlier, could argue a case but technically ref Will Finnie got it right to send them off.

Paudie gave him a decision to make, as the saying goes, when he stuck his head into the face of Eboue Adams while standing up for Tyler French.

His team-mate had just been elbowed by the Forest Green midfielder - an incident the officials missed - as they chased a ball out of play.

But the reaction from Adams was pure theatrics, throwing himself over the advertising boards to land in a heap – and the delay with which this was performed would have embarrassed iFollow.

City were fuming and Stuart McCall twice spoke to Adams afterwards to hear his version, which seemed to change when he got wind that O’Connor could face a fine of two weeks’ wages for indiscipline.

It left a sour taste – and the Bantams with a monumental battle to hang on minus both centre halves.

Lee Novak volunteered himself to drop back into the role with all hands on deck. They so, so nearly pulled it off.

The sight of Reece Staunton going down with an ankle injury in the build-up to Forest Green’s cruel final act only added to McCall’s post-match headache.

Depending on the youngster’s condition, he could now be three defenders down for next week. That recruitment process just got a lot more urgent.

But he will be heartened by the determination and fight displayed by a team he had blasted for their Carabao Cup rollover four days earlier.

The defending during the bombardment in the game’s final quarter was of the meat and two veg variety compared with the limp lettuce leaf of Lincoln.

McCall had demanded a reaction in a side showing four changes. There was a fiddle with the shape as well.

City switched to four at the back with Connor Wood deployed as a deep-lying midfielder to counter the nippy running of Adams. Zeli Ismail got a first start in a three-man frontline with Kurtis Guthrie pushed out wide.

For 45 minutes, it had looked like square pegs in round holes at times.

Guthrie was out of sorts and Ismail generally frustrating – for all his undoubted ability, he too often ran down blind alleys or drifted lazily offside.

City did have the best chance of a poor half when Luke McGee defied his former club by tipping Paudie O’Connor’s header on to the bar.

But McGee was at fault for the goal three minutes after the break that began the mayhem.

Elliot Watt, an impressive performer once more, let fly from 25 yards and the keeper failed to hold. Novak was on his toes to pounce on the rebound, smartly flicking it over McGee before completing a nonchalant finish.

Forest Green were level on the hour as Carl Winchester’s free-kick, awarded for what looked a perfectly fair challenge by Billy Clarke, then flicked off the City man in the wall to fly past Richard O’Donnell.

Within a minute, Anthony O’Connor was too slow to stop Adams in the box and clipped him from behind. Off he went but City were spared as Winchester drove the penalty wide of the post.

City’s reduced numbers then stunned the crowd by retaking the lead when Watt’s free-kick from near the touchline deceived everyone and flew in the far corner.

He celebrated by turning and taunting the fans who had given him stick for something he said earlier in the game. How we’ve missed that interaction!

But three minutes later the odds were stacked even higher against the visitors when they lost a second defender.

There were still 20 minutes to go – effectively half an hour with all the stoppage time that Finnie lumped on at the end – as an extended game of attack versus defence commenced.

Only McGee remained in Forest Green territory. In fact, only McGee was more than 30 yards from City’s goal for what was left.

Crosses rained in and shots whistled high and wide – home boss Mark Cooper later joked that his team wouldn’t have won any goldfish at the fair.

But they got the consolation prize as the contest entered its 96th minute.

With Staunton on the floor, Aaron Collins exploited the space in City’s box where he would have been to convert the cross from sub Scott Wagstaff.

Just like their first meeting at Valley Parade last year, Forest Green had struck at the death.

City were robbed of a big win but the willingness to stick it out together for as long as they did could do wonders for team spirit going forward. That's providing McCall can make sure there are enough players now.