THE elderly home fan repeated the numbers with increasing gusto towards anyone within earshot.

“Seven to two,” he said over and over while trying to lock eyes with every reporter sat in the front row of the cramped press box.

“They say we’re seven to two to go down. Just you remember that, seven to two.”

Not that anybody at the Broadfield Stadium on opening day probably needed reminding that Crawley were “hot favourites” for the drop before a ball was kicked.

A volatile summer of outs for many of the names who had faced City here four months previously and ins for raw, untried non-league replacements has had the Sussex side pinned as relegation fodder on most betting coupons.

Meanwhile, the Bantams are once again among the names touted to exit the division the other way.

Their odds may not be quite as short as usual, the arrival of the big-hitting duo from the National League has made sure of that, but still last season’s play-off finish has made sure City will be in the conversation.

Mark Hughes had acknowledged that in the run-up to the season’s curtain-raiser with his comments that no club in League Two is bigger.

That quote sounded a bit empty as the loud local in the red cap made his triumphant exit from the main stand.

First days traditionally throw up the unexpected as some make the transition from pre-season to the nitty gritty quicker than others.

Who would have bet on Wrexham and Notts County both being hit for five on their EFL return? Or Doncaster, another fancied team on the back of busy recruitment, stumbling at home to Harrogate?

But this was a chastening outcome for Hughes and the four-figure away support who had made the longest trip on the calendar.

Some have voiced their apprehension that a calmer window has not sufficiently beefed up the team that were sixth best last season. Are they going to find the goals that were lacking elsewhere if Andy Cook does not score?

City’s number nine, frustrated by his misses at Crawley on Good Friday, was again kept in check.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jamie Walker was denied by a good save in the first halfJamie Walker was denied by a good save in the first half (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Well shackled by Jay Williams, a former Northampton defender who made two moves in the summer before arriving back in the EFL from National League North Brackley, Cook’s afternoon finished early with a jarred knee.

Hughes allayed concerns afterwards, saying Cook’s premature withdrawal was precautionary, but it underlined how much his team depend on the defending golden boot.

And again, there was nobody to pick up the scoring slack in his absence.

City were on the back foot from the 42nd minute when Daniel Oyegoke, one of their five debutants, saw red from card-happy referee Thomas Parsons.

The Manchester official’s book overflowed with names in his willingness to caution anything and anyone. But Oyegoke was walking the thinnest of tightropes from the moment he got a first yellow.

Then Ash Taylor, who had a difficult first start, had his pocket picked by Daniel Orsi on halfway and the home striker cut across Oyegoke’s path to ensure there was enough of a contact to go down.

Whether it was a bookable offence is debatable but the Brentford youngster had already got away with one after hauling down Dom Telford moments before. The clock had been ticking.

“He will learn” said his manager - and Oyegoke’s not the only one on as Crawley delivered a reminder that League Two is no respecter of reputations.

City’s previous four seasons since returning to the basement level in 2019 had all kicked off with goalless draws.

But any thought of extending that strange sequence went out the water when Will Wright took advantage of a hastily-arranged wall to bludgeon a long-range free-kick beyond Harry Lewis.

The Bantams had a case that Ciaran Kelly’s robust challenge on Kellan Gordon was a fair one. But, with studs slightly raised, Parsons was always likely to blow.

Any sense of injustice was no excuse for not having their defences properly lined up for the set-piece that would settle the result.

So, City’s miserable record at Crawley goes on - it remains just the one win, nine years ago, from eight attempts.

They had begun brightly enough and looked the livelier of the teams up to the goal.

Hughes once again stuck with the three at the back that he had employed through all the friendlies.

With no Sam Stubbs, Matty Platt was surprisingly left on the bench to use Oyegoke in the right-handed role - a regrettable choice in hindsight.

Liam Ridehalgh and Brad Halliday provided the experience as willing wing-backs but the standard of crossing into the box was indifferent.

For a spell, most of the balls in consisted of Ridehalgh trying to pick out Halliday at the back post or vice versa - hardly the most prolific of scoring combinations.

City’s biggest chance, in fact, of rescuing a point came from Ridehalgh’s stoppage-time header that flew straight into the arms of keeper Corey Addai.

By then, the visitors had switched to two up top as Hughes used all five changes in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the lost cause.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Daniel Oyegoke is shown the red card by referee Thomas ParsonsDaniel Oyegoke is shown the red card by referee Thomas Parsons (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Jamie Walker had carried the chief attacking threat in the first half, linking with the energetic Alex Pattison to find one or two promising positions. The best saw him dart inside from the left, eluding the challenges before being thwarted by Addai’s outstretched leg.

Clarke Oduor joined the Scot as the chief support for Cook on the other side of the front three. He again showed up well in a more offensive role.

Oduor nearly finished off a move he had started with his quick feet on the halfway line and displayed good stamina late on to track back and prevent Crawley’s two-on-one break towards goal.

With the advantage of the extra man, the hosts had their opportunities to rubberstamp victory and Ronan Darcy smacked the bar right on half-time.

But one goal would prove enough to turn the pre-match predictions on their head.

Crawley’s home is becoming something of a fortress since Scott Lindsey took charge. They have lost only one of his 14 games at the Broadfield.

But that stat won’t wash with a City faithful understandably jaded with the prolonged existence in the fourth tier. This was a depressing introduction to the latest attempt to find their way back.