THIS was not meant to happen.

All the promotion permutations that City fans have been playing through their minds did not include defeat at Swindon.

This was nine-games-without-a win Swindon against nine-unbeaten-away-from-home City. What a time to lose your first road trip of 2023.

At half-time, fourth place had beckoned invitingly for the Bantams. Instead, they stay in sixth but lost ground on those ahead while the gap behind closed up once more.

There was one change from Saturday - a significant one as Luke Hendrie came in for Brad Halliday at right back.

It was Hendrie’s first league appearance since September 24 against Wimbledon, which was the only one Halliday had missed through suspension.

It was exactly six months to the day since Hendrie’s last competitive outing in the Papa Johns Trophy at Burton.

Other than that, Mark Hughes stuck with the same side that had scored six in their previous two games.

Matty Platt was back from his ban to take Ciaran Kelly’s place on the bench.

Swindon had been woefully out of form. But the Bantams were well aware of the “banana skin” potential of the fixture at such a crucial stage of their season.

There was also their “favourite” referee Darren Drysdale and City had not won a game with him in the middle since November 2018.

Rushian Hepburn-Murphy took a painful blast in the face from a Liam Ridehalgh clearance. But the Swindon winger recovered his senses to win a free-kick - which Luke Jephcott glanced across goal.

Jamie Walker tried to play in Andy Cook but home defender Tom Clayton was across in the nick of time with a penalty-area block.

The first real chance fell to City on 10 minutes as Hendrie drilled in a low cross that broke invitingly to Richie Smallwood 15 yards out. But the skipper went too much for power and thudded it well over the bar.

Smallwood then tried to turn provider with a free-kick that Alex Gilliead flicked across Swindon’s goal.

Keeper Sol Brynn needed two grabs from a Walker shot and Scott Banks curled an effort well off target.

Banks then cut back to Cook - but there was no repeat of his flying volley against Hartlepool as he dragged it straight into the ground.

Play stopped for Swindon’s Saidou Khan, who is observing Ramadan, to break his fast. There was another lengthy stoppage after Harry Chapman gashed his shin after falling into an advertising board keeping the ball in play.

He was forced off as Thierry Nevers made an early introduction for his longest appearance in a City shirt.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Richie Smallwood blazes over the bar in the first halfRichie Smallwood blazes over the bar in the first half (Image: Thomas Gadd)

The sub instantly fed Ridehalgh on the overlap and Gilliead worked his cross back to Walker for an attempt that drifted past the post.

City were pushing for that breakthrough and Hendrie worked space for a cross from Banks’ short corner but Romoney Crichlow’s downward header was clutched on the line by Brynn.

But the Bantams needed a fine one-handed save from Harry Lewis to deny Swindon as half-time approached, throwing himself to his left to palm away a goal-bound attempt by Khan.

City went close three minutes after the break after Gilliead picked off a loose pass. Cook fed Banks charging into the box but his cross-shot was cleared off the line by the stretching Tom Brewitt.

The away fans were finding their voice but Swindon nearly strangled those shouts with a dangerous counter.

Frazer Blake-Tracy’s low cross found its way through to Jephcott - but Lewis was equal to his first-time effort as he turned it over the bar.

Swindon were starting to build pressure with several corners as City’s play grew a bit scrappy.

Jonny Williams whipped in a decent one that had Lewis flapping but Hepburn-Murphy’s reaction header flew over the bar.

Hendrie had enjoyed a solid return but it was cut short by an injury just after the mid-point of the half. The reshuffle meant Gilliead dropped into right back.

Emmanuel Osadebe and Matt Derbyshire were thrown on as Hughes looked for a spark from somewhere.

Swindon, who last tasted victory on February 25, were starting to fancy it as Ridehalgh was given the first booking for hauling back Hepburn-Murphy.

Osadebe whipped in a teasing cross but Cook’s header flew straight up in the air as he challenged Brynn.

But Swindon’s second-half efforts paid off with the breakthrough on 82 minutes. Remeao Hutton claimed his 10th assist of the season with the cross that Williams powered home from close range.

It was only the second goal City had conceded in seven away games - and a hammer blow to their promotion ambitions.

City thought they should have a late penalty when Osadebe went down as he cut in on the right of the box. But the substitute was instead booked for complaining.