STEFAN Rupp has been associated with the Bantams long enough to know to expect the unexpected.

“This is Bradford City, we never do it the easy way,” he chuckled before watching his first game at Valley Parade since March last year.

And true to form, the Bantams find themselves in a bit of a promotion pickle after an afternoon that swayed one way then the other - before delivering the most painful finale.

The owner is due back again for the final home game against Leyton Orient.

But rather than his club’s coronation that he had hoped would follow that of King Charles, it might now be a late scramble to make sure they make the play-off cut.

How the picture can suddenly change.

And in the midst of it, a blast from failed play-offs past in the shape of Neil Harris.

The nemesis of Phil Parkinson in 2016 and Stuart McCall at Wembley 12 months later was at it again thanks to a 97th-minute equaliser in an overblown amount of added time.

Harris was quick to point out afterwards that he has still never lost at Valley Parade.

He certainly enjoyed giving some back to those giving him and the Gillingham bench stick from behind the dug-outs.

Then again, when you’ve got Millwall on the CV, a bit of back-chat is hardly going to trouble you.

A lot more worrying was the nonsense that emerged as Romoney Crichlow revealed the extent of the abuse he had received on social media.

Crichlow spoke of “death threats” and immediately shut down his accounts.

His crime? Making a mistake for the first Gillingham goal.

For that he claimed to have been targeted for vile abuse from some individuals. Supporters or fans is certainly not the way to describe them.

Do these trolls ever think before they press “send”? Do they even know how to think?

And what kind of message does it send out to the rest of the team and, further afield, to other players who might be considering a move to Valley Parade one day?

“Come and join Bradford City and you’ll get told to kill yourself if you do something wrong …”

You dread to think about the reaction from these Neanderthals should City finish the season outside the play-offs in eighth.

That remains a possibility after Gillingham extended their record in BD8 to one defeat in their last nine visits.

Results from the rest of the promotion pack did City no favours for once and a play-off cushion that was five points after the Rochdale romp is now down to minimal goal difference.

Around the same time that Oli Hawkins was stunning Valley Parade with Mansfield’s leveller, one-time Bantam loanee Matty Lund was grabbing a dramatic winner for Salford to ensure there is no leeway with a fortnight to go.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Harry Lewis is closed down by Tom Nichols during a nervy first halfHarry Lewis is closed down by Tom Nichols during a nervy first half (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Next week’s trip to Northampton, a red-letter day earmarked before kick-off as a top-three shoot-out, now becomes a top-seven survival mission in City’s eyes.

Spoiling the Cobblers’ promotion party becomes secondary to staying in the hunt ahead of that game in hand at Crewe four days later.

City will certainly need to turn up a whole lot sharper than they did on Saturday.

Fibre issues around the district caused huge problems for the Valley Parade logistics - and there was a distinct lack of moral fibre about the first 45 minutes.

City were a yard off the pace from the start, stuttering and nervous at the back and allowing Gillingham to go at them without a care in the world.

The possession style of playing out from defence backfired completely under the pressure. The growing complaints from the stands just adding to a vicious circle of uncertainty in an area of the team that is usually so reliable.

Harry Lewis, marking his 50th City appearance, looked a bag of nerves and those in front of him coped little better.

Brad Halliday was back after his recent illness but appeared just as ill at ease as his team-mates.

The other change from Swindon, Thierry Nevers for the unfortunate Harry Chapman, showed a reluctance to push forward and go at Gillingham when he got the ball.

Still, Andy Cook almost sneaked City in front with a shot that Max Ehmer blocked in front of the line.

Then the problems really started. Crichlow took a casual touch on halfway and Timothee Dieng nicked the ball away to race clear.

The centre half tried desperately to recover his error but Dieng did what so many Bantam old boys have done at Valley Parade this season, seizing the spotlight with a confident finish for his second goal since joining his latest club in the January influx.

“Bradford City, we’ll see you again” taunted the 363 away fans as the rest of a previously-upbeat crowd fumed and chuntered.

The mood was getting darker by the minute as Dieng almost helped himself to another when Alex Gilliead cheaply coughed up possession from a short goal-kick that went wrong.

It seemed that every time Gillingham pressed, City panicked. The crowd’s frustration seemed to spook the home side even more.

Sam Stubbs headed over a decent chance but there was another anxious moment as Alex MacDonald’s in-swinging corner was headed off the line by Richie Smallwood.

Mark Hughes could not get his team in quick enough when half-time offered some respite.

The response was immediate as Gilliead launched into a purposeful burst deep into Gillingham territory.

Nevers worked the ball out to Liam Ridehalgh whose deep cross found Cook for a downward header that sneaked past Glenn Morris inside the far post.

Suddenly, Valley Parade felt like a different place.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Emmanuel Osadebe wraps up Andy Cook after his second goalEmmanuel Osadebe wraps up Andy Cook after his second goal (Image: Thomas Gadd.)

Jamie Walker went close then Scott Banks, the one City player prepared to take the battle to Gillingham in the first half, saw his cross-shot tipped over by Glenn Morris.

Smallwood’s goal-bound blast took a thin deflection to clear the bar before the breakthrough.

Banks anticipated Ridehalgh’s cross and got there a fraction ahead of left back Robbie McKenzie, who caught him with a tired leg.

Time seemed to stand still before referee Ben Speedie eventually pointed to the spot - and Cook sent the place into overdrive by burying number 29 for the season. Drought? What drought?

And that was that, another massive three points in the bag.

Err not exactly … Gillingham had not come north “to make up the numbers”, according to Harris, and bounced back fighting.

Twice Tom Nichols thought he had equalised; twice he was superbly thwarted by Lewis to make up for his first-half jitters.

The board had flashed up eight extra minutes - a “reward” to Gillingham for their time-wasting according to an angry Hughes - and we all feared the worst.

The clock had reached 97 when Lewis made his second save from Nichols.

But even with the extra security of third centre half Matty Platt, City could not deal with Cheye Alexander’s corner that passed right through to Hawkins to stab home.

And City’s promotion prospects had taken an unexpectedly nasty downturn.