Former Ipswich striker Jon Stead was the hero as Sean O’Driscoll’s first home game in charge ended in an unlikely last-gasp victory.
The striker, who came on only 11 minutes from time, returned to haunt his former employers with a 90th minute winner after the visitors pressed hard for the killer goal themselves.
Town had taken the lead on 30 minutes through Daryl Murphy and might have doubled the advantage before Steven Davies struck shortly after the interval to level the scores.
Sean O’Driscoll handed a debut to Irishman Brendan Moloney at right-back, while Sam Baldock returned from a calf strain to partner Ryan Taylor up front.
An uneventful opening ten minutes was disrupted by a long delay for an injury to Taylor, who landed awkwardly after an aerial challenge. Having required prolonged medical attention, the striker briefly continued before having to make way for Davies on 16 minutes.
The visitors had marginally shaded the early exchanges, but City manufactured the first opportunity of note when Paul Anderson surged down the left and cut the ball back for Baldock, whose shot took a slight deflection before rolling just wide of Scott Loach’s left-hand post.
From Neil Kilkenny’s resulting corner, Cole Skuse’s tentative volley was a couple of yards wide, before Ipswich frontman David McGoldrick dragged a left-footed shot narrowly wide from 20 yards with the game finally starting to open up.
But it was Ipswich who would take advantage with the deadlock breaker on the half-hour mark. Some patient possession in midfield culminated in Guirane N’Daw playing the ball into McGoldrick, whose clever touch fed strike partner Murphy.
The former Sunderland forward showed good strength to shrug off the attentions of Liam Fontaine inside the penalty area and drill the ball low into the bottom corner for a simple finish.
Suddenly the visitors, only six points clear of the relegation zone at the start of play, were full of confidence and an even more impressive passing move should have doubled their lead seven minutes before half-time.
After a long spell of possession, Murphy collected the ball with his back to goal and played a cute pass in behind the City defence for McGoldrick, whose low cross looked certain to produce a second goal only for Lee Martin to miss the target from four yards with the net at his mercy.
City went in at the interval on the back of a brief flurry, as Skuse’s pass out to the wing was brought down by Anderson, who ran at former Ashton Gate favourite Bradley Orr before cutting inside and ultimately shooting tamely at Loach in the Ipswich goal.
But it was a different City who came out full of intent after the break, levelling the scores through Davies’ ninth goal of the season.
Louis Carey’s long ball out of defence found Anderson in space on the left, and the winger’s neat pass inside Orr found Davies, who lashed home an excellent first-time finish high into the roof of the net at Loach’s near post from a tight angle.
The air of relief around Ashton Gate was tangible, but City almost switched off moments later when Orr’s floated cross was headed over the bar by Murphy at the back post – a similar chance to the one converted by Ross McCormack at Leeds last time out.
From then on in it was in the balance. O’Driscoll used up all three of his substitutions, replacing Baldock and Kilkenny with Stead and Stephen Pearson either side of a real scare for the hosts, who owed a debt of gratitude to keeper Tom Heaton for maintaining parity.
It was left-back Aaron Cresswell who rifled a 30-yard shot goalwards unconvincingly parried by Heaton, who responded superbly to palm away Martin’s stooping header on the follow-up before McGoldrick lashed a third effort wide.
As time eroded away it was Ipswich pressing harder for a winner, and another chance fell the way of skipper Carlos Edwards, only for Greg Cunningham’s crucial block to just divert the shot into the welcoming arms of Heaton.
But with City looking increasingly grateful for a first point of 2013, Stead latched on to Davies’ knockdown and took his time before smuggling a low shot under the body of Loach to seal three vital points.