JAMIE Walker gave City a sniff of Wembley with the only goal at a frenzied Valley Parade.

The Scot struck 18 minutes into the play-off semi-final first leg to give Mark Hughes’ men the one-goal advantage going into next Saturday’s return in Cumbria.

It was tense stuff at times, particularly in the second half as Carlisle stepped up the pressure in search of an equaliser.

But City signed off their home campaign with the win in a fantastic atmosphere.

Andy Cook fired a blank for the seventh successive time against the club where he started as a junior. But more importantly, it’s his team who have placed one foot tentatively towards the play-off final in a fortnight.

Hughes had kept with the same starting line-up that had held champions Leyton Orient six days before. Experience was the name of the day in the high-stake surroundings.

In fairness, every game has felt like a play-off for City since the pair slugged out a goalless draw at Valley Parade in March.

But it had been far too long since the real thing - 2,185 days, in fact, since the Wembley heartbreak under Stuart McCall.

The crowd of 20,575 was City’s biggest in their six home play-offs, beating the 19,241 who watched Phil Parkinson’s Bantams stumble against Millwall in 2016.

It was also the largest ever seen for a semi-final in the fourth tier.

The level of noise that greeted the start was incredible. Carlisle’s sold-out away section on Midland Road meant there were home fans behind both goals.

The away fans were screaming for an early penalty as Alfie McCalmont went down under Sam Stubbs but ref Ross Joyce waved away the appeals.

Cook, unsurprisingly, had the first shot of the night but it flew comfortably wide from 20 yards.

City came under set-piece pressure on 15 minutes as Owen Moxon’s free-kick picked out Ben Barclay in a crowd of players but Harry Lewis held his bouncing header.

Joe Garner then rattled the bar - but the whistle had already blown for handball against the striker. And how City responded!

Lewis hit the free-kick long, Alex Gilliead nodded it forward, Cook flicked on, Scott Banks played in Walker and the Scot coolly drilled the ball past the diving Tomas Holy.

If anything, the noise got even louder in the stadium - while a couple of agitated Carlisle fans were ejected in a kerfuffle in the corner.

Walker had a taste for it and was not far off a second, latching onto Cook’s half-cleared cross and fizzing a cross-shot past the far post.

Carlisle’s chief threat came from Owen Moxon’s set-pieces. Jack Armer headed wide from their first corner and Corey Whelan nodded wide from the midfielder’s free-kick after Alfie McCalmont had been brought down.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Richie Smallwood wins this aerial duel with Joel SeniorRichie Smallwood wins this aerial duel with Joel Senior (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Walker’s movement continued to trouble Carlisle but it was City holding their breath when he went down banging the ground after attempting a shot.

Fortunately, he was able to carry on and the Bantams rounded off a good first-half’s work with Banks surging forward and Holy smothering his toe-poked effort.

The fans kept doing their bit as play resumed after the break. “Bradford are massive everywhere we go” rang out as the volume remained high.

Barclay’s long throw into the City box was headed out by Sam Stubbs as far as McCalmont, whose first-time volley was straight at Lewis.

Carlisle then nicked the ball off Adam Clayton in City’s half as Garner launched a counter. But he checked inside the box and allowed Romoney Crichlow time to make a vital tackle.

That was Garner’s last involvement as Paul Simpson swapped both strikers just before the hour. Former Bantam Omari Patrick also left the pitch to home jeers as the Carlisle boss introduced Ryan Edmondson and Kristian Dennis.

Edmondson instantly forced a corner but Barclay could not get enough on Moxon’s cross to trouble Lewis.

Walker went off to a standing ovation after 65 minutes as Emmanuel Osadebe got the big-stage outing he could not have imagined when he suffered that double leg-break horror on opening day.

City hearts were in mouths when a Crichlow mistake let in Edmondson. But the Carlisle sub fired across the face of goal from a tight angle and Jack Armer followed up to drill into the side-netting.

Carlisle had enjoyed the upper hand since the break with City struggling to create anything. Cook’s shot was well blocked by Paul Huntington and Holy used his 6ft 7in frame to punch clear Richie Smallwood’s corner.

Armer’s cross then picked out Edmondson but he glanced it past the post - holding his head in frustration at seeing a juicy chance go begging.

City were struggling to get any decent possession as the blue shirts kept coming in the closing stages.

Matty Platt came on as a third centre half to bolster the backline but Carlisle fashioned another dangerous opening. Dennis found his way through but was pushed wide enough by Lewis to shoot behind the goal.

Five minutes of stoppage time added to the tension but City saw it through without any alarm to protect that precious lead.

We do it all again six days from now …