THE swirling rain and slate grey sky provided the classic Salford stereotype.

This “dirty old town”, that the Pogues sing about when the teams step out, had served up another filthy afternoon.

And the result dumped City deep in the muck after a game every bit as dispiriting as their previous visit pre-lockdown.

The only noticeable difference from March was that they escaped a packed away end hurling abuse at the final whistle. That is reserved online in these weird times.

Pre-match predictions that City would offer a sterner test to their much-fancied hosts on this occasion proved mere bluster. Saturday felt like a carbon copy.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before as The Smiths, another band that put Salford on the musical map, might say.

The clues were in the team sheet and the names that weren’t there on the City side.

Adding Billy Clarke, Callum Cooke and Reece Staunton to the casualty list weakened all three areas.

The in-form Clarke, in particular, was a massive miss as City lacked anyone with that same cleverness of thought and ability to create time and space.

The respective benches highlighted the disparity of the teams. Salford had four strikers to bring on – City none.

Stuart McCall pointed out that clubs at every level would suffer if you ripped out five starters.

But it’s the wafer-thin cover behind the first 11 that is a huge concern. Once more, the back-up were shown to be not up to the job.

There were one or two brighter chinks amid the pervading gloom.

Austin Samuels, thrust into an attacking support role as Clarke’s replacement, had his most effective outing in a City shirt.

The pace we were told about was in evidence on a couple of occasions when he found the room to spin off his marker and run.

He also had the gilt-edged chance that, while it may have had no bearing on the final outcome, would at least have registered City’s interest in the contest.

Connor Wood, whose delivery was frustratingly hit and miss, crossed to the edge of the box where Clayton Donaldson met it with a firm header.

Vaclav Hladky could not hold on and suddenly there was Samuels set to pounce with the loose ball at his feet.

But rather than going for power and trying to blast through the keeper, he steered it as wide of him as he could – too wide as the close-range shot bounced away off the far post.

The Czech in Salford’s goal survived his biggest scare; his only other mild concern was a self-inflicted one when he palmed Elliot Watt’s ambitious long shot on to the roof of his net.

Richard O’Donnell was far busier at the other end where, but for his athleticism, City would have been on the end of a real hiding.

A point-blank block from Ash Hunter’s header was the pick, somehow clawing the ball away from almost behind the line. He also stood strong and spread himself well to deny a few other menacing counter-attacks.

O’Donnell was not able to keep out Salford’s opener on seven minutes, although it would be harsh to point the blame his way.

Bruno Andrade was afforded too much room to let fly and O’Donnell’s full stretch dive attempted to turn it round the post.

But Luke Burgess, making his first league start since a non-league loan, reacted quicker than Connor Wood to hook the rebound home from a tight angle.

Salford always seemed to have the extra man whenever they went forward.

City tried to stick with the attacking style that McCall wants his team to play and enjoyed their fair share of possession in home territory.

But it seemed that every time a move broke down and a pass went astray, it would signal a red-shirted charge the other way.

Salford would exploit the gaps out wide behind wing-backs caught out roaming upfield.

Tom Clarke provided a constant source of ammunition advancing from right back and claimed the assist for the second goal.

Ash Hunter, who has always given City nightmares whether it’s for Salford or previous employers Fleetwood, was at it again.

He sprayed a cross-field ball in Clarke’s direction, the unmarked defender’s header returned it with interest into the goal mouth where Ian Henderson lurked with intent.

The 35-year-old former Rochdale marksman, who City were keen on in the summer until they heard what Salford were offering, was not going to refuse the gift to end a two-month goal drought.

O’Donnell denied Andrade and then, somehow, Hunter as the feared hammering looked to materialise.

And even when Samuels found woodwork rather than the net, Salford bounced straight back and Henderson fortunately planted a one-on-one the wrong side of the post.

City got lucky on that occasion but were exposed once again right on half-time but that common knack of shooting themselves in the foot.

Playing Gareth Evans from the start had been a gamble on McCall’s part.

The plan was to try and give him an hour but Evans appeared under-cooked after his lengthy lay-off.

And he was culpable for Salford’s third, cheaply giving the ball away just inside his own half and then ambling back in the slipstream of Burgess.

Rather than taking one for the team and bringing down the Salford striker, Evans allowed him to advance towards the box where he wrong-footed Ben Richards-Everton too easily to fire past O’Donnell at his near post.

It was the latest addition in this season’s bulging file of shockers that should have been avoided.

McCall had raced from the stand to the dressing room by the time the half-time whistle offered City some brief respite.

His solution was to use three of the five subs that are now permitted. It was no surprise to see Evans and Richards-Everton make way as well as Harry Pritchard reporting a lower back problem that all will hope is not connected to the trouble that plagued him last season.

Teenager Kian Scales did, at least, show a bit of willingness on the ball in an otherwise hopeless cause.

He already looks a player with some heart and character and will surely earn more opportunities by being prepared to have a go.

Salford predictably took their foot off the pedal although Henderson saw a flick header hooked off the line by Paudie O’Connor.

Nobody was fooled by a second half of damage limitation. There had been a chasm between the two sides.

The sooner that McCall can get some cavalry back the better or City’s winter will turn darker and colder.