City 1, Accrington Stanley 1

For those who still fill out the pools coupon, City must be a punter’s dream. Home game at Valley Parade? The draw is nailed on.

Factor in Accrington Stanley’s visit – a fixture that has not seen a home win for either side for more than half a century – and the result was as good as sorted before a ball was kicked.

Yet after the way City had taken the game to promotion rivals Shrewsbury last time out, we didn’t really see this coming.

Since that positive performance a fortnight back, all the talk emanating from the Bantams camp centred on the sharpness in training and the added focus within the group. Injured players are on the way back so competition for places should be fierce.

The substitutes bench on Saturday was arguably the strongest Stuart McCall had been able to field all season. There were good options for every area of the team – so where did that stodgy performance come from?

The early Accrington goal didn’t help. Last season they needed only 90 seconds for the home defence to gift an opener; this time it took marginally longer – four minutes.

Paul McLaren needlessly clipped Chris Turner five yards outside the D and Jimmy Ryan’s free-kick burrowed its way through the City wall. The deflection off Nicky Law gave Rhys Evans no chance and the proud run of four clean sheets was out the window.

But that setback should not have hit home as hard as it did. After all, weren’t City two goals down with only ten minutes left when the sides played a few months earlier? And that one didn’t work out too badly.

Accrington, fresh from a four-day beano in Spain, must have sensed very quickly that the home side were in no mood to repeat the job.

The yellow shirts snapped into tackles and snaffled up second balls. City too often ran into trouble and found themselves unable to build any momentum.

Their best hope of finding some joy was to get the ball out wide but that didn’t happen often enough. When it did, Steve Jones – in particular – was only noticeable because of his dazzling lime green boots. His play on the right flank certainly didn’t match them.

Omar Daley, at least, carried some threat with his keenness to have a pop; though his nomination as man of the match by the sponsors was a strange one and, not surprisingly, drew a quizzical response from the crowd.

For half an hour, City might as well not have been out there. Then Law set off on a trademark driving run to the edge of the box before wanting a touch too many.

Daley fired the first shot in anger, which appeared to strike a Stanley arm but referee David Webb ignored the appeals.

The presence of the rookie official from County Durham was a bad sign. His only previous visit to Valley Parade coincided with the only league home defeat against Bournemouth.

The whole ground, barring 111 away fans in the far corner of the Midland Road, feared the worst when Webb was similarly unimpressed with as blatant a handball as you will see all season.

Michael Boulding, who was left to feed on scraps all afternoon, challenged with Phil Edwards and the centre half’s left arm clearly made contact with the ball. Boulding and the Kop went up to demand the spot-kick but Webb was impassive.

McCall looked fit to burst on the sideline, remonstrating with the fourth official. Then he recovered his sense of humour to fetch a pair of gloves from the dugout which he waved in the direction of the Accrington defence!

But City’s listless performance to that point had been no laughing matter. There were, though, shoots of recovery as half-time approached.

Dangerous crosses from Luke O’Brien and Law had been flicked away from Bantam heads before a rally in stoppage-time should have brought parity.

Kenny Arthur, back on the ground where he was stretchered off last season, brilliantly turned away Law’s ferocious cross-shot. Then McLaren’s shot took a deflection and somehow didn’t go in. From the corner, taken quickly, Daley let fly but was thwarted once again by the keeper’s finger-tips.

It did not quell McCall’s anger at the penalty that never was and he sought out the referee when the half-time whistle was blown. But at least it promised a second-half response for the fans.

Six minutes in, they got it thanks to a surging run from Law. He attacked down City’s run, leaving Edwards in his tracks and drilling a low cross for Barry Conlon to slide in and convert.

City were back on level terms with almost an entire half to pick open Accrington again. Three points were surely there for the taking.

But for some strange reason, they switched off once more. Instead of going for the jugular, City’s momentum came to a shuddering halt. Apart from one fizzing drive from Daley, Arthur was untroubled in the Stanley goal.

McCall twiddled with his strikers, sending on Chris O’Grady for Conlon and Peter Thorne seven minutes later in place of Boulding, but they had no effect.

O’Grady did himself no favours when he had the room to spark an attack. As defenders converged down the middle, he had Jones in a much better position to his right but never looked up and inevitably disappeared into a cul-de-sac.

There was more huff and puff but nothing to trouble the visitors and it was Accrington who finished the stronger with the best chance to win it three minutes into stoppage time.

Not for the first time this season, Evans came to City’s rescue by beating out a well-struck drive from John Miles. The rebound flew too high for the in-coming Chris Turner to reach and the danger was gone.

Accrington boss John Coleman, a winner at Valley Parade on his previous two visits, thought his side should have been celebrating again.

He said: “People up and down the country would have seen us as a walkover because of the team we had to put out. But we are a good footballing side who try to get it down and play.”

McCall, on the other hand, was in no mood to mince his words and admitted: “Too many people under-performed.

“You can get away with one or two being off the boil but not as many as we had. I’d say a few did okay but otherwise it was very poor.”

Attendance: 12,172