IT WAS a Sunday lunchtime date with Millwall but that was the only similarity.

Tomorrow, City will try to take a significant step towards a return to the Championship after a 12-year absence.

They take on the same opponents who inflicted a meaningless 1-0 defeat on their last day in the second tier.

The Bradford City of now are totally unrecognisable from the club who were simply fulfilling a fixture at a disinterested Den on May 9, 2004.

Neil Harris, the current Millwall manager, kept up his streak of always scoring against the Bantams with the only goal – a penalty after Paul Heckingbottom had handled.

Referee Rob Styles didn’t give it straight away but had his mind changed by his assistant.

Bryan Robson, City’s boss at the time, fumed afterwards about decisions not going their way. It seemed a ridiculously pointless argument given the real story unfolding around him.

City were in the midst of a second administration. Relegation had been confirmed a while back but there were genuine fears if the club would play again.

Julian Rhodes held crisis talks the next day with the older heads in a squad unsure whether they would be seeing a pay cheque later that week.

“That meeting was even more negative than the one we had with the administrators,” said David Wetherall afterwards.

Dean Windass put it rather more bluntly: “This club is going belly up.”

Fortunately City did live to fight another day. A lot of hard work behind the scenes slowly pulled the club round.

But the on-field decline would continue for the best part of a decade. Until Phil Parkinson took this club by the scruff of the neck and gave it one almighty shake.

So Bradford City v Millwall 2016; how times have changed.

Parkinson is currently the fifth longest-serving manager in the country. Nearly five years into the job; one year into another contract which takes him up to 2018.

For him, City remain a work in process.

Rewind to 2004 and Robson’s rant about the referee. It was his last public statement as manager as he quickly stepped away in the financial maelstrom.

A team sheet featuring such luminaries as Wolleaston, Gavin, Sanasy and Penford is now filled with mainstay names like Darby, McArdle, Cullen and Hanson.

And this is the division below…

Talk of returning to the Championship one day has taken on an almost mystical air in the intervening years.

When we traipsed around Dagenham, Barnet and Morecambe on a yearly basis, thoughts of ever getting back to such lofty levels seemed fanciful in the extreme.

But here we are now, potentially three games away. Three gut-wrenching, nail-gnashing, heart-stopping games away.

Forget Accrington, next month’s fixture list could say Aston Villa. Northampton? How about Newcastle. Or Wolves or Nottingham Forest or Leeds and Huddersfield …

Just imagine starting the FA Cup after Christmas again in round three. And not having to take part in the JPT or whatever they call it next…

Of course four teams dream the same and three of those will finish disappointed. Look at how last year’s losing finalists Swindon struggled with the extended hangover and barely stayed up this time.

But there is an enticing symmetry about City’s recovery. Going back again from where it ended.

The next three hours at least of football – and I wouldn’t discount extra-time and maybe more – will decide if they are set to go full circle.