THE applause ringing around a soggy Valley Parade was lengthy and genuine.

This was heart-felt appreciation at the final whistle for a hard-fought win – just the reaction that Graham Alexander had been hoping for.

The post-match smiles were not based on a resounding victory, a particularly thrilling performance or a contest that swung from end to end.

It was down to the fight on display, the battling qualities to get over the line and get the job done against a team fighting their own desperate relegation scrap.

That’s what afternoons like this are all about – dealing with ugly opponents on a filthy pitch in difficult conditions; finding a way, whatever’s necessary, to bank another three points.

The goal may linger in the memory, a slick move from back to front, a killer through pass and a finish full of confidence.

Not much else that went on will make the end-of-season show reel. But that didn’t matter.

City made sure of a resounding week by demonstrating those miserly defensive qualities that have come to the fore and finding one emphatic intervention at the other end.

And, whisper it quietly, the play-offs creep back onto the agenda.

A gap that had stretched to a prohibitive seven or eight points has been slashed to two in the space of eight days.

Wednesday’s EFL Trophy semi-final is still the biggest game of City’s campaign bar none. But the last three results have indicated that it’s not the be all and end all for the next couple of months.

There may still be another prize to pursue even if the Bantams cannot get their own back on Wycombe for the early FA Cup exit.

City will have to do a lot of chasing to pull off a top-seven raid – Graham Alexander warned that such a successful mission would likely go right to the wire – but at least it feels a possibility again.

The fickle fortunes of football can swing quickly and, fingers crossed, the curve is upward once more.

City’s revival has been built on the rock-solid foundations at the back. Five straight clean sheets, started by Colin Doyle against Donny in the Trophy and followed on by four for Sam Walker in the league, make impressive reading.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Sam Stubbs slotted into midfield in Richie Smallwood's absenceSam Stubbs slotted into midfield in Richie Smallwood's absence (Image: Thomas Gadd)

It is now more than eight hours and counting since an unmarked Dawson Devoy scored Swindon’s second goal on that woeful day in Wiltshire.

Since then, nobody has been able to breach the Bantams backline.

Sutton, like MK Dons four days earlier, certainly had a go but found Walker in “thou shalt no pass” mood once more.

Cast your mind back to the grumbling that greeted the arrival of the experienced stopper a month ago as the immediate replacement for fans’ favourite Harry Lewis.

Those that wrote off Walker on the evidence that he’d “only” played a bit for Kilmarnock in the last couple of seasons look a bit foolish now.

His huge presence and strong hands ensured Sutton’s attempts bounced off a brick wall, making the best save with an instinctive block to deny Harry Smith’s header.

The visiting target man posed the biggest threat to City’s impressive defensive run, winning his fair share of flicks and knockdowns despite facing plenty of competition around him.

That included Sam Stubbs in an unexpected midfield role, whose duties included making sure Sutton’s big number nine was never allowed the room for a clean header.

Nobody anticipated Stubbs getting the nod to fill in for Richie Smallwood as the skipper began his two-game league ban.

But Alexander admitted he had learned his lesson for sticking too long with the same personnel over the hectic Christmas spell. He did not intend to take the same risk by persisting with Kevin McDonald in there with so much football still to come.

Better to spare the Scot’s considerable presence to be fresh for Wednesday – when Smallwood will be back as well – and trust Stubbs to seize his unexpected opportunity.

READ MORE: Why Jake Young didn't play in City's latest win

He did just that, even getting into the “nosebleed” territory of driving into the Sutton box at one point, and the City boss was able to avoid reshuffling any other positions.

The result was back-to-back league home wins for the first time since August as they chip away at that one-in-three Valley Parade victory record.

The fears that Sutton, with just one win since beating the Bantams in October, would choose the occasion to end their two-month drought thankfully proved unjustified.

Even the Millwall jinx failed for once as Steve Morison, scorer of that goal at Wembley in 2017, could not match the party-pooping ways of Neil Harris.

It never felt particularly comfortable but there is a growing confidence that once City have their noses in front, they are becoming increasing difficult to shift.

The costly habit of conceding first – and early – has been conquered. There is no need to frantically chase the game.

A more measured approach made for an attritional start with both sides feeling their way on a pitch that allowed no liberties.

But as Ciaran Kelly recently suggested, the testing surface can work in City’s favour as they grow accustomed to its idiosyncrasies.

The home side should certainly have been in front after two great chances fell Andy Cook’s way.

He was kicking himself for failing to score for a third consecutive attempt, spooning a shot over the bar after it was laid on a plate by the ever-willing Brad Halliday and then heading down and straight at Dean Bouzanis from close range.

That chance was provided by Clarke Oduor who showed an encouraging willingness to do the dirty work alongside his technical game. His manager’s pre-match words demanding more consistency seem to have hit home.

It was Oduor’s quick feet and vision that would eventually unlock Sutton’s resistance.

The Londoners had enjoyed moments of their own. Lee Angol, trying so hard against his former club, bent a free-kick wide before the break and Walker twice thwarted Smith straight after.

But they were undone by the speed with which City propelled the ball out of defence.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Calum Kavanagh scored for the second consecutive gameCalum Kavanagh scored for the second consecutive game (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Alexander had called for more urgency in their play second half and that was evidenced by the way Walker rushed possession into Halliday’s path as the counter accelerated towards halfway.

He slipped a pass inside to Oduor who effortlessly switched his feet and laid on the perfect invitation for Calum Kavanagh to advance and thump purposefully past Bouzanis.

The reaction of the young striker at scoring again was a joy to watch as he milked the moment with the crowd.

The return of Tyreik Wright from the bench was another high spot and he nearly had a goal to celebrate as Bouzanis beat his shot away in stoppage time, Cook being caught on his heels and overrunning the rebound.

Walker extinguished one more score in the six additional minutes to save from sub Olly Sanderson and the job was complete.