IT WAS the sliding doors moment on City’s season and happened well before they had kicked a ball.

Derek Adams really thought he had got Cole Stockton following him to Valley Parade.

It’s understood that terms had been agreed with the Morecambe marksman and a medical was set to take place.

Instead, Stockton opted to sign a new deal that same day with the newly-promoted League One side and Adams dipped out on the spearhead of his successful Wembley campaign.

The significance of that near-miss for City would play out in the months that followed.

Stockton would rattle in 26 goals – more than double anyone at Valley Parade where scoring remained a limited currency – to keep the Shrimps up. And his former manager would be back on the touchline to witness that escape.

That reunion with Adams was just another bizarre twist in another underwhelming campaign for the Bantams.

It had begun with such high hopes based on the acquisition of a manager in the same week he had won promotion.

It is virtually a year to the day since Ryan Sparks spelled out City’s mission statement.

“There is no room for mediocrity at this football club” was the stick that his critics would constantly beat him with as the season lurched from one disappointment to another.

But there was nothing mediocre about paying big money to lure an in-form manager away from his previous club.

Nor were there too many dissenting voices at the prospect of placing City’s fortunes in the hands of someone with a proven track record of getting teams out the fourth tier.

You could question the comments, maybe, but not the ambition – something Sparks would demonstrate with the “rabbit out the hat” appointment of Mark Hughes in February.

By then, of course, the season had pretty much gone. An anticipated promotion push dribbling away in a series of “xG” draws and a frustrating failure to win at home.

City’s mistake was to put all their eggs in one basket and give Adams the autonomy to rule on everything.

It’s how Adams had done it before – and the signs are that he has already gone back to tried and trusted methods on his return to Morecambe. But City were effectively hoodwinked.

Adams likes to control every aspect, that’s how he operates. Hence the swift departure of Lee Turnbull as the club’s recruitment strategy was ripped up to centre around what the manager wanted.

It’s interesting that has been rebuilt since Hughes came in with Stephen Gent’s recent arrival to head up a department that is critical at this level.

When was the last time Sky Sports News coverage was led by a Bradford City story – other than in administration?

Recruitment under Adams seemed to fall away as it went on. The promise of exciting, promotion-hardened targets petering out into a scramble for the likes of Caolan Lavery, Theo Robinson and Nathan Delfouneso.

Yann Songo’o has done exactly what was said on the tin – a “winner” was how his former boss described him and he has got stuck in to his conversion to centre half.

On the other hand, Oscar Threlkeld, another serial Adams signing, appeared to crumble in the Valley Parade bright lights. He was not the only one.

Yet, it all looked to be going to plan when City came racing out the traps with 10 points from the first four games. But Andy Cook’s first-half treble against Stevenage and the fightback win at Mansfield proved the falsest of dawns.

Performances were there for the most part but not the goals as results stuttered. Stockton, anyone?

Fans inevitably switched off at the constant reference to “expected this and expected that”. Riding high in the stats tables did not equate to points in the only one that mattered.

Just hours before City pulled the trigger, Adams was still pointing out that City were third for most shots in League Two and second with the number of crosses. Nobody cared.

Off the pitch, there was the pre-Christmas pantomime when American cryptocurrency investors WAGMI United announced they were about to buy the club.

For 48 hours, everyone went (bored) ape over NFTs as the fanbase frantically genned up on blockchains and cold wallets.

Owner Stefan Rupp then poured cold water on the interest and the group switched their attentions to purchasing Crawley instead.

There was a suggestion that they had asked to attend their future club’s game at Valley Parade – but City had enough drama to contend with.

A failure to win two games on the bounce after August – and just one at home in four months – saw the crowd turn on Adams.

The Scot had not tried to engage with the supporters, so that meant little sympathy when times got tough. An uneasy truce turned to outright venom from some sections in the stands and City’s latest February fall guy became inevitable.

Once again, the club were scrabbling around for a new manager three-quarters into a season. Déjà vu, all over again.

But nobody saw his replacement coming – least of all Sparks.

For 48 hours, everyone went (bored) ape over NFTs as the fanbase frantically genned up on blockchains and cold wallets.

While the usual suspects dominated the betting lists and candidates declared an interest, one even using a false name to hide under a baseball cap in the Valley Parade press box, there was a left-field entry that landed in the chief executive’s clutter folder three days after Adams had gone.

After getting over the initial shock and establishing the email from Alex Hughes, Mark’s son and agent, was genuine, Sparks went to see the Welshman the Monday after City’s ritual defeat at Oldham.

Talks progressed quickly and a deal was signed two days later. The football world, including the dressing room, was gobsmacked when the news was officially broken the following morning.

When was the last time Sky Sports News coverage was led by a Bradford City story – other than in administration?

Hughes, you sense, took the job for the right reasons. A gilded Premier League career means he does not need the money; this is about rebuilding his managerial reputation with arguably the toughest challenge he has faced.

But a household name is no guarantee of success. City know better than anyone that the bigger you are, the harder you fall at a level where respect is earned on hard work and honest toil.

That target on their backs from having a stadium and size of fanbase that rival clubs can only dream of has just become a whole lot bigger.

Hughes the player would have relished such a stage; the task, once again, will be building a team that can do likewise. Many have tried, most have failed.

Preparing for another summer reboot feels like Groundhog Day.

But City can feel that they are in a stronger place to begin it than this time last year.

Remember Adams was not appointed until June 4; even with some plans in place, they were inevitably playing catch-up.

Hughes has had 13 games to see exactly what he’s got – and, more importantly, what is lacking. It has been a long enough audition to weed out those he wants to keep from the rest.

A major overhaul is required. Recent improvements, in particular the final three games, have shown the style Hughes aims to introduce but the personnel must be fit for purpose – the last 10 months suggest that is not the case.

City weren’t League Two’s biggest underachievers. That dubious honour, once again, must go to Salford who continue to throw around money like confetti and still cannot reach the play-offs.

But with attendances well beyond any of their competitors, the Bantams must learn to conquer their stage fright. The home record made particularly shocking reading - even with two wins to finish.

There is so much to be done but also a sense of opportunity.

Other clubs may have deeper pockets but Hughes, we all hope, can call in favours and attract better players because of who he is. That is the next battle to be won.

The announcement of Jamie Walker on a permanent deal last night was a very strong start.

We have been here too often. A decade on from Phil Parkinson’s golden summer of recruitment, City fans will be keeping everything crossed Sparky can deliver the same.