THERE was no fairy-tale ending after nearly a decade of waiting.

City’s first appearance in the League Cup last 32 since 2014 - and only second since Wembley two seasons earlier - produced no story of underdog drama.

The gap in class between the Championship and League Two was brutally exposed as Middlesbrough marched confidently into round four with hardly a scratch.

The Bantams - and the Valley Parade faithful - tried to give it a go but were never a match for a buoyant Boro. The home side, in fairness, barely had a shot.

Middlesbrough, even with over half their team changed, were at a different level.

For City, the focus shifts to more important - if less glamorous - surroundings against Walsall this weekend.

Mark Hughes had made two changes from the side that had won convincingly at Newport.

Kevin McDonald, fresh from two assists in south Wales, was given the night off with that approaching league game against the Saddlers in mind.

But the big surprise was that it was Daniel Oyegoke not Richie Smallwood in his place.

The captain had been dropped for McDonald at the weekend and missed out again behind the Brentford loanee, who was starting in central midfield for the first time.

The other change saw Chishom Afoka take over on the left wing from Rayhaan Tulloch, who was on the nine-man bench. That also included Alex Pattison for the first time since he went off with a hamstring injury in the last round at Wrexham.

Boro lifted the trophy exactly 20 years ago and their early cup progress had stood out in a poor start to the Championship.

Michael Carrick’s side, who showed seven changes from their first league win, had scored three in each of the previous rounds at Huddersfield and Bolton.

Boro had travelled in force and were given the whole Midland Road. But there were gaps around the home support despite the club’s fiver ticket offer to drum up numbers.

There was still a lively atmosphere as City embarked into cup territory they had not seen since losing at MK Dons nine years ago.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Rayhaan Tulloch tries to burst through the Middlesbrough defenceRayhaan Tulloch tries to burst through the Middlesbrough defence (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Lewis O’Brien, the one saving grace from City’s disastrous 2018-2019 relegation campaign, was back in Boro colours on loan from Nottingham Forest.

He was playing as a makeshift left back - but still should have scored inside three minutes after appearing upfield at centre forward.

O’Brien started and should have finished a menacing Boro raid that carved open the home defence. Hayden Hackney worked the ball wide to Morgan Rogers and O’Brien continued his run to meet the low cross in the box but fired over the bar.

City were forced to do a lot of chasing in the early stages and Samuel Silvera was not far away with a rasping drive from 18 yards.

Riley McGree, another of the Boro Australians, then danced into space by the D but couldn’t keep the shot down.

The goal was coming - and arrived on 20 minutes - as Hackney won the ball on halfway, drove forward and then threaded a ball through for Emmanuel Latte Lath to score beneath the diving Harry Lewis.

City’s keeper didn’t do himself any favours with that but soon made amends with a superb grab on his line to deny Lath a quickfire second with a point-blank header from Tommy Smith’s cross.

Boro were popping up here, there and everywhere to pull the Bantams around with their movement. O’Brien was getting forward almost at will.

City were looking for attacking crumbs and there was a groan of frustration when Alex Gilliead got himself into a decent position but then failed to play in Jamie Walker.

There was a hint of hope when Brad Halliday’s deep free-kick was fumbled by keeper Tom Glover under pressure. The ball briefly came loose in the melee before Boro could hack away.

But City were probably relieved to reach the break only one behind given the way the visitors had dominated.

Tulloch appeared for the ineffective Afoka for the second half and immediately lifted the mood, exchanging passes with Gilliead before looping City’s first shot of the night wide.

The crowd were getting into it as the Bantams tried to get a toe-hold in the contest.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Jamie Walker came off in a four-man change in the second halfJamie Walker came off in a four-man change in the second half (Image: Thomas Gadd)

But their hopes were dashed by a second Boro goal in the 54th minute as McGree stabbed a pass through Liam Ridehalgh’s legs and Rogers beat the exposed Lewis.

Dan Barlaser then had the keeper scrambling anxiously from a 25-yard free-kick before Oduor had a shot charged down in the Boro box as the Kop screamed in vain for hand ball.

O’Brien was still threatening a goal of his own and raced through again on Hackney’s flick - only to be denied by a strong arm from Lewis.

Hughes made a quadruple sub with just under 20 minutes left.

Cook and Walker were among those to make way to ensure they would be fresh for the next league combat. It was good to see Pattison back as one of the four replacements.

Adam Wilson, who also came on, offered a couple of bright moments as the Bantams attempted to finish with a bit of a flourish.

And Pattison did at least manage their first - and only - shot on target five minutes before the end.