City 0, Bury 1

The final drama of Stuart McCall’s reign summed it up in a nutshell.

The ball flashed across the goalmouth to Peter Thorne, one of McCall’s original signings. And Thorne, City’s top scorer for the two full seasons under McCall’s command, put it just the wrong side of the post.

If there was a striker you’d lump the mortgage on scoring from that situation it was Thorne. Instead his effort missed by a whisker and City were once again left empty-handed.

And that instant said everything about McCall’s two-and-a-half years in the Valley Parade hot-seat: lots of promise, loads of endeavour, but nothing ultimately to show for it.

McCall’s oft-repeated mantra about the thin dividing line between success and failure was epitomised by the ball flying six inches wide of the gaping Bury net.

Seconds later, Rob Shoebridge’s whistled signalled much more than the end of yet another if-only afternoon. It also heralded the end of an era.

McCall will officially say goodbye at some point today. But his applause for the fans afterwards told everybody in the stadium what they, deep down, already knew.

McCall had given it his all – and for once come up short.

His final team, like his tenure, gave it what they could. There was no shortage of commitment on a pitch that was cutting up easier than granny’s apple pie and against opponents riding the crest of a five-game winning run.

But, as McCall would frequently say, it just wasn’t to be. Instead the team with one shot on target and one goal stole the victory to complete a fortuitous double over the Bantams.

City had cause to scream injustice at the outcome at Gigg Lane three weeks earlier; on Saturday, even more so.

“You could see everybody give everything for the gaffer as they have done throughout the season,” said skipper Simon Ramsden.

“Results haven’t gone our way but we’re all so behind him. We’d like him to stay but that’s out of our hands.

“The gaffer has got a history with the club from playing and manager. You can see the club means a lot to him, as it does with all of us.

“Every time you put on the shirt you should wear it with pride and give 100 per cent. There have been a few occasions when we’ve been called for not doing that but not this time.”

McCall had moved Ramsden to centre half for his finale. It has always looked the obvious solution to City’s problem area, with his calming presence and consistency soothing some of the jitters that have cost the side so dear this season.

The hole at right back was filled by Zesh Rehman, reprising the role he did pretty competently at the back end of last season. The Pakistani international’s confidence has looked shot in recent weeks but he appeared more comfortable away from the middle.

Gareth Evans was rewarded for his dramatic double salvo at Torquay with a place on the right wing as James Hanson returned up front to offer a spearhead City had lacked during his injury.

There was even a decent full-complement bench – and that has certainly not been the case all that often.

With the likes of Omar Daley, Thorne and even Steve O’Leary back in the fray, things finally were turning for McCall. If only we were still in October, not February.

The match itself was no great shakes. But who honestly thought it would be?

Excitement was at a premium for 45 minutes, though City did look the sharper team.

They forced two chances, one early on from Hanson after a slick move which Wayne Brown parried at his near post. Then Michael Flynn, looking more like the rampaging figure that impressed the fans earlier in the campaign, seized on Ben Futcher’s weak clearance inside the penalty area but could only side-foot it straight back at the lanky stopper.

Bury captain Stephen Dawson barrelled through once but Matt Glennon ensured there was no repeat of the controversial penalty call from their first encounter. And a couple of meaty tackles from the rejuvenated Matt Clarke kept the back door firmly shut for once.

City were playing for their gaffer all right. Flynn had to be pulled away from a heated – and one-sided – argument with Daley as half-time arrived.

Nothing had been seen of Ryan Lowe, the newly-crowned League Two player of the month. When he did wheel away from Clarke’s clutches, Rehman was there in the danger zone to hack his cross away.

City’s defence was only undone once – but that proved enough after 52 minutes. Dawson’s pass bisected centre half and left back; Glennon read the danger and foiled Mike Jones but Andy Morrell was nearby to drive home the rebound.

We were now in familiar territory as City launched into a frantic game of catch-up.

Thorne was thrown on, Clarke moved further and further forward, while even Glennon by the end was retrieving corners.

Evans could have been McCall’s saviour again with three opportunities. Frenzied penalty shouts fell on deaf ears and even Rehman and Luke O’Brien got in on the act as City threw everything at Brown.

Then Thorne thought his first goal since April had arrived. So did McCall; so did the Kop. But lightning doesn’t strike twice. There was no magic moment deep in injury time this week.

McCall has learned to lose with dignity. A battling performance, even if coupled with the all-too-familiar emptiness of defeat, ensured he could walk away with his head held high.

He said: “I love working with the players Monday to Friday but up to couple of weeks ago Saturdays have been a worry. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

“But I had my best night’s sleep for a long time on Friday. I was really looking forward to the game.

“I’m glad we didn’t go out with a damp squib. On another day we’d have won but it wasn’t meant to be.”

McCall’s pride in defeat remained intact to the end.

Attendance: 11,965