City were pegged back in painfully familiar fashion but can still reflect on a point gained at Sky Bet Championship leaders Newcastle United.
Roared on by nearly 3,000 fans who made the 600-mile round trip to Tyneside, City went in at the interval with a two-goal lead as Aaron Wilbraham’s well-placed header was followed up by David Cotterill, who punished a defensive mix-up that angered the home supporters.
But Newcastle responded to draw level with eight minutes left through Ciaran Clark after Jonjo Shelvey had reduced the deficit, and even had chances to snatch victory at the death.
Lee Johnson made six changes after accusing his side of lacking energy against Fulham at Ashton Gate on Wednesday night.
Zak Vyner, Gary O’Neil, Korey Smith, Bobby Reid, Callum O’Dowda and Wilbraham all returned after extended absences from the starting XI.
Four of the midweek starters were missing from the squad altogether – Adam Matthews, Scott Golbourne, Josh Brownhill and Milan Djuric; the latter with a stomach muscle injury. Jens Hegeler and Matty Taylor dropped to the bench.
City were big outsiders with the bookmakers and conceded the game’s first corner inside the opening minute, but did not take much longer to feel at home in such illustrious surroundings.
Having played their way into the contest, City pounced to stun an expectant home crowd in the 11th minute.
When the ball was laid back for O’Neil, one veteran found another as the midfielder’s first-time cross was met perfectly by Wilbraham, who guided a brilliant header back across Karl Darlow to find the bottom corner.
Newcastle were not giving the visitors an awful lot to worry about, but at the other end Paul Dummett nervously headed over his own crossbar before Reid was only denied by a last-ditch tackle when put through by Wilbraham as the natives demanded an offside flag that never came.
City were ahead and looking comfortable, but things were about to get even better for the near 3,000-strong travelling contingent.
O’Neil’s diagonal pass seeking Cotterill was overhit, leaving Dummett with a simple header back to his goalkeeper.
But when Darlow got too close to the defender, the header shot past him and Cotterill, who kept running, was left with a simple finish into the unguarded net to score his first City goal since returning to the club on transfer deadline day.
Now the Geordies were really frustrated and their mood was not about to improve when Shelvey sent a low free kick skidding across the City goal, begging for a touch that never came.
Finally Newcastle began to find their form. Ayoze Perez headed over from a near-post corner and Vyner intercepted crucially in front of Christian Atsu before the Chelsea loanee got the better of him and squared the ball for Perez, whose shot was blocked by the well-positioned O’Neil.
It was the first real storm City had to weather, but having done so, they made it to half-time unscathed.
The second half was always likely to be a different proposition. The first talking point arrived when Aden Flint’s backheader tempted Alekandar Mitrovic to chase, prompting the defender to ease him out of the way.
Flint was the last defender and would have been in big trouble had play been stopped, but it was deemed no more than shoulder to shoulder by referee Chris Kavanagh.
Then Perez got the home fans excited with a rising drive that just whistled over Fabian Giefer’s crossbar from 25 yards.
But still Newcastle were struggling to build any substantial momentum. At the other end, Darlow looked anxious when Cotterill’s dipping shot bounced awkwardly in front of him.
Rafa Benitez responded with his first substitution 13 minutes into the second period. Off went Jack Colback, on came Mo Diame – creator of the Magpies’ winner at Ashton Gate back in August.
From the very next attack, Newcastle were back in the game. The pacey Atsu raced to the byeline and sent an inviting low cross along the six-yard line where Shelvey slid through a sea of bodies to score, as Giefer clawed the ball out before it found the net but not before it crossed the line.
At this point, it felt like City’s best route to victory might be to go for more goals. That was Cotterill’s thinking when he lined up a 25-yard free kick that arrowed towards the top corner but not beyond the reach of Darlow, who made the game’s most impressive save to date.
By now every Newcastle attack was greeted by roars from 50,000 Geordies. Flint recovered brilliantly to block from Perez, while Giefer dived full length to keep out Ritchie and Mitrovic headed a Shelvey corner over the bar.
Johnson felt he had to react and did so by introducing Hordur Magnusson for his first appearance in seven matches, sacrificing Joe Bryan and switching to a back three with Vyner and O’Dowda as wing-backs.
With 15 minutes left, Shelvey embarked on a solo run but scuffed his shot at the end of it. City countered, led by the tireless Smith, before Wilbraham found O’Dowda whose touch let him down.
Then Ritchie crossed to the back post where Atsu took the ball down on his chest and seemingly had to score, only to drag his effort past the post from the corner of the six-yard box.
Now down to the final eight minutes, Johnson brought on Marlon Pack for Smith to offer extra height as his team prepared to defend a corner.
It would make no difference, as Ritchie’s inswinging corner was nodded home by Clark inside a crowded goalmouth to leave City hanging on for a single point rather than all three.
Three times Shelvey tried his luck in a bid to complete the comeback – twice denied by Giefer – and City threw bodies in the way of other shots to stand firm and claim a bonus point in the fight for survival.