Reported by Mark Perrow at the Riverside
City defied the odds and produced a magnificent display to topple automatic promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough on foggy Teesside.
Having taken the lead through Albert Adomah inside 13 minutes, the Robins were pegged back by Ishmael Miller’s untidy equaliser later in the first half.
Boro came on strongly after the interval in barely visible conditions, but Stephen Pearson struck the game’s all-important third goal on 63 minutes from Adomah’s cross.
From there on in City might have expected to come under an avalanche of pressure, but that never came to fruition and home frustrations were compounded by substitute Steven Davies late on.
McInnes made two changes to his side who halted a seven-game losing streak with a 1-1 draw against Blackpool last time out, both enforced.
Injuries in training to Jon Stead and Matthew Bates ruled them out of the long trip north, the latter missing out on a return to the club he had served his entire career until the end of last season.
Bates’ absence opened the door for Louis Carey to make his first start for five weeks alongside skipper Liam Fontaine, while Ryan Taylor was preferred to Davies and Sam Baldock up front.
Noted for their easy on the eye approach, the hosts wasted little time in testing Tom Heaton, as an intelligent chipped ball into the box from Emmanuel Ledesma was chested back to the edge of the area by Miller for Lukas Jutkiewicz to strike low and hard on the half-volley but straight at the City stopper.
Next to chance his arm from distance was Boro captain Grant Leadbitter, but again Heaton saved comfortably before City broke with purpose and opened the scoring with their first chance of the game.
Much of the credit should go to young left-back Joe Bryan, rightly praised by his manager for giving Thomas Ince a frustrating afternoon seven days ago before the Blackpool winger finally broke through from the penalty spot in the dying minutes.
This time it was Bryan’s attacking qualities coming to the fore, as an impressive surge down the left flank took him all the way to the byline, where he cut the ball back for Adomah to sidefoot home underneath the dive of Boro keeper Jason Steele.
An expectant home crowd had been silenced, and City threatened to double the state of shock on Teesside with a second soon after. This time it was Neil Danns leading the charge and drawing defenders in before finding Pearson in space on the left corner of the penalty area.
The Scotsman looked up and delivered an excellent deep cross for Taylor, but the striker just failed to pick out Marvin Elliott with his cushioned header, when perhaps a replica of Miller’s chest back at the other end would have been the appropriate choice of lay-off.
It was an opportunity City would almost regret immediately, as Boro’s first attack since falling behind should have levelled the scores. If anything Miller’s driven cross was a shade too high for strike partner Jutkiewicz, but the Pole still ought to have directed his attempt on target from virtually point-blank range with Heaton beaten.
It was end to end stuff and City, against the odds, were creating the best chances – none more so than a free shot blazed high over the bar by Pearson on the penalty spot after Richard Foster’s cross inadvertently fell his way via Taylor.
Then it was the turn of another Bryan run and cross, this time high and long towards Taylor at the back post, who appeared to be clearly impeded by former City loanee Andre Bikey in attempting to get his head to the ball.
Much to McInnes’ fury, referee Neil Swarbrick saw nothing wrong as the ball sailed over both heads and away from danger.
Tony Mowbray’s high fliers had enjoyed a real stroke of fortune and did not take long to inflict further grief on their visitors with the equalising goal on 34 minutes, when Miller eventually stabbed home Leadbitter’s corner after City failed to clear.
But this was an encouraging away performance and City responded brightly to the setback. Another Foster cross aimed at Taylor was well held up by the focal point, who invited Pearson to set up Adomah to unleash a fierce 20-yard strike palmed away by Steele.
Taylor then beat Steele to Neil Kilkenny’s resulting corner, but was unable to direct his header on target as another half-chance came and went.
The fog was getting worse with half-time just around the corner, but Pearson would struggle for sympathy in using that as an excuse for allowing Ledesma to sneak in front of him and let fly with a cleanly struck shot that just bounced wide of Heaton’s right-hand post.
By the time the second half began, visibility was at an all-time low, but that didn’t stop Miller threatening to complete the turnaround with his second, sending a curling left-footed shot just past the angle of post and bar.
Boro pressure was growing, and City were nearly undone by another Leadbitter corner in pinball fashion, as Heaton only succeeded in punching the cross against the inside of his near post before Kilkenny hooked clear with home fans convinced the ball had crossed the line.
But amidst all the jeers – and fog – a flowing City counter-attack nearly rubbed salt into Boro wounds, as Adomah’s placed shot towards the top corner from 20 yards only stayed out via the underside of the crossbar after excellent work from Kilkenny and Danns.
Back at the other end, the Robins were indebted to Carey for somehow smuggling the ball to safety after Miller beat Bryan and fired the ball low across goal begging for a finishing touch.
It was highly entertaining stuff, for those who could see it, and in another unexpected twist City regained the lead just past the hour mark when another slick counter this time received the finishing touch it deserved.
It was another lung-busting run from the tireless Danns that carried him to the byeline to cut the ball back for Pearson, who squeeze his shot under Steele at the near post in fashion not dissimilar to the opener.
It had all the makings of a nerve-shredding last half-hour including stoppage time, but City looked relatively comfortable in the face of almost relentless Boro possession.
Substitutes Scott McDonald and Kevin Thomson were both off target from positions never likely to trouble Heaton, before fellow replacement Luke Williams drove one straight down the keeper’s throat from 20 yards.
Boro were hardly filling the home faithful with belief they could draw level, but any scent of remaining hope in the air was extinguished when Adomah left Bikey in his wake and set up Davies, who emphatically curled the ball into the far corner to round off a quite superb win.
There was still time for Ledesma to strike the bar from a last-dictch free kick, but the result was no longer in doubt. The fog had finally lifted, and now so too can the mood around Ashton Gate.