THE game had reached the quarter point when Mark Hughes bellowed his disapproval from the Rochdale touchline.

“Keep the ball” was the abridged version of the manager’s comments as the frustration bubbled in the away dug-out.

Results in friendlies may not matter, as we are frequently reminded, but standards do - especially heading into the week of the season curtain-raiser.

The clock is ticking down fast to Crawley away.

Barring one more “bounce” game on Tuesday, tune-up time is just about up.

Just like last year, City will head into the League Two season on the back of defeat to non-league opposition.

This was not the three-goal beating they took 12 months ago at a Chesterfield side that would go on to suffer Wembley promotion heartbreak.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ash Taylor launches a long throw-in towards the Rochdale boxAsh Taylor launches a long throw-in towards the Rochdale box (Image: Thomas Gadd)

The Bantams had the bulk of the play and the chances against a Rochdale who are getting their heads around the end of a 102-year stay in the Football League.

But they were off it in several areas; things that will concern Hughes and his staff and focus their minds over the coming days.

It was not all poor on an afternoon that again saw 20 outfield players on duty.

Daniel Oyegoke, for one, was a busy outlet on the right, offering a wide and willing option for the build-up play of Alex Pattison and Jamie Walker.

The Brentford loanee was also not put off by a whack on the nose that saw him sporting a wodge of padding and a switch to a numberless "blood" shirt.

And there were plenty of chances created - even if the lack of conviction at trying to finish them was a concern.

At least there should be no danger of anyone getting ahead of themselves and allowing complacency to creep in for the long trip to Sussex on opening day.

Hughes had stressed beforehand that you should not take it as read that Saturday’s starting line-up would be the one tasked with taking three points from Crawley.

The 697 travelling fans in the 1,971 Rochdale audience will vouch for that fact.

It is still hard to second-guess the gaffer in several positions but there weren’t loads shoving themselves forward with commanding displays.

Alex Gilliead again got the nod to start at left wing-back while Ash Taylor started over Matty Platt in the back three. The trademark long throw into the box got its first serious outing with mixed results.

Pattison and Walker were prominent in a low-key first half as well as Emmanuel Osadebe, whose running into decent positions was then let down by the end product.

He should have done better with an early header and then placed, rather than wellied, an effort straight at keeper Louie Moulden from inside the box - something Richie Smallwood repeated just before half-time.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Harry Lewis did not have too much to do in City's defeatHarry Lewis did not have too much to do in City's defeat (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Smallwood and Alex Gilliead went off as planned at the interval as the substitutions began.

But it was Rochdale’s interval switch to replace Kairo Mitchell with Devante Rodney that had the immediate impact as the newly-arrived frontman broke the deadlock.

The goal was a defensive mess from a City standpoint.

Max Taylor launched a long free-kick towards the box that should have been routine to deal with.

But Rodney, who had been on the pitch barely 90 seconds, muscled Sam Stubbs away from its path forcing the defender into a weak jab at the ball.

Ian Henderson accepted the gift and fed Rodney who easily evaded the lunging Ash Taylor to hammer past Harry Lewis.

The City stopper had not really had a shot to save up to that point - and was not that much busier afterwards.

But that single strike proved enough for the hosts to head into their televised National League bow against Ebbsfleet with a bit of a spring.

Falling behind did jolt the Bantams into a response and more chances came - and went.

That will not help to convince those questioning all the bullish talk of backing up Andy Cook’s goals this season.

Alex Pattison had the best of those, set up by Cook’s clever work from Taylor’s long pass, but the midfielder’s first-time strike flew over the bar.

Cook, who had tested Moulden with a low drive, was among the second wave of departures just after the hour. Every City fan could then relax at seeing their precious talisman sign off pre-season unscathed.

His replacement Matt Derbyshire, having pulled a shot wide from a tight angle, was denied a late equaliser by Dale’s back-up keeper Brad Kelly palming away his header from Ryan East’s cross.

ROCHDALE: Moulden (Kelly 82min), Keohane, M Taylor, Ebanks-Landell (Nevett 46min), John, Clayton (Johnson 81min), Oduroh (Shubbar 61min), Gilmour, Afuye (Trialist A, 58min), Mitchell (Rodney 46min), Henderson.

CITY: Lewis, Oyegoke (Halliday 76min), Stubbs (Hendrie 61min), A Taylor (Platt 76min), Kelly (Odusina 76min), Gilliead (Ridehalgh 46min), Pattison (Youmbi 76min), Smallwood (East 46min), Osadebe (Pointon 61min), Walker (Oduor 61min), Cook (Derbyshire 61min).