Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
City recorded a third straight home victory for the first time in nearly two years as goals from Steven Davies and Marvin Elliott inflicted defeat on managerless Nottingham Forest.
After an end-to-end first period, Davies broke the deadlock with a deflected shot five minutes after the interval, before captain for the day Elliott headed home the striker’s free kick 12 minutes later.
From then on the visitors pressed hard for a lifeline, but City were solid defensively and largely untroubled after the second goal in registering back-to-back clean sheets at Ashton Gate.
Already hampered by injuries, Sean O’Driscoll also had to do without Sam Baldock for the visit of his former club to Ashton Gate.
The striker, suffering with a calf injury, joined Louis Carey, Cole Skuse, Neil Kilkenny and Ryan Taylor on the sidelines.
Baldock’s absence opened the door for Jon Stead’s first start under the new head coach alongside Davies up front, while Lewin Nyatanga made his first start since October at the expense of James Wilson.
In an open first few minutes, Dexter Blackstock threatened to get on the end of Radoslaw Majewski’s low cross before Stead tested Forest keeper Karl Darlow down to his right with a driven left-footed shot from 20 yards.
City were almost the masters of their own downfall soon after, when a harmless-looking long ball caused confusion between Tom Heaton and Liam Fontaine, but striker Billy Sharp was driven wide and unable to fashion an opportunity with the goal temporarily gaping.
All this arrived inside the first 12 minutes, but from then on the end-to-end nature of the contest began to fizzle out.
City were next to register a shot on target when Stead surged down the left flank and pulled the ball back for Stephen Pearson, but the Scot was off-balance by the time he struck his shot which Darlow dealt with comfortably.
At the first half’s midway point, Forest spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock after some slick interplay between Andy Reid and Dan Harding. But the latter’s imaginative cross with the outside of his left boot was somehow headed on to the top of the crossbar from no more than three yards by Blackstock, with City longing for an offside flag that never came.
It was a huge let-off, but one that incited a strong period of play for the hosts, who came close to going in front themselves through former Forest loanee Greg Cunningham – stinging the palms of Darlow from distance – and Davies, whose free kick from similar range just whistled past the post.
With half-time approaching, City continued to grow as an attacking force. Another run out to the left flank from the ever-willing Stead culminated in a deep cross to Paul Anderson, but the winger opted against a shot at goal and saw his attempted pass across the six-yard box cut out with Davies awaiting a tap-in.
After a high octane first period, the second half started in even more frenetic fashion. Forest’s Adlene Guedioura let fly from 25 yards with a shot that bounced back into play off the chest of the stooping Heaton, but when Sharp eventually forced the ball into the roof of the net, the linesman’s flag cut the celebrations short.
It was to prove a pivotal moment, as Anderson’s corner found its way through to Davies at the far post, who drove a low shot into the net with his trusty left foot via a deflection to register his tenth goal of the season.
But City’s lead was a fragile one, and the hosts were soon indebted to Heaton for pulling off a stunning point-blank save to keep out Sharp after the striker connected sweetly with Chris Cohen’s right-wing cross at the far post.
And again, those small margins would come back to haunt the visitors, as Elliott headed Davies’ free kick from the right down and into the bottom corner of Darlow’s net to give City breathing space on 62 minutes.
With little choice but to throw cushion to the wind, Forest piled forward, but were finding it difficult to manufacture clear chances against a stubborn City display.
Substitute Lewis McGugan hit a rising drive which narrowly eluded the angle of post and bar late on before Blackstock’s stooping header was smothered by Heaton, who would soon be celebrating another clean sheet and nine points out of 15 since O’Driscoll’s arrival.