Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
City’s seven-match unbeaten run at Ashton Gate came to an end as a controversial late penalty subjected the Robins to a first home defeat under Sean O’Driscoll.
Craig Davies converted a 79th minute spot-kick after substitute Matthew Bates was adjudged to have brought down David Ngog by the assistant referee, who persuaded man in the middle Mark Haywood to reverse his decision having originally ignored Bolton appeals.
City had fallen behind inside the first two minutes when Darren Pratley’s low cross was turned into his own net by Liam Fontaine, but Steven Davies’ header four minutes into the second half levelled things up.
From then on the game became increasingly stretched, with both sides in desperate need of points at opposite ends of the Championship table, but substitute Davies struck the killer blow.
O’Driscoll made two changes to his side beaten 3-1 at Burnley last time out, as Lewin Nyatanga and Sam Baldock returned from muscle strains to replace Bates and Paul Anderson in the starting line-up.
But City suffered a nightmare start as Fontaine put through his own net inside the first two minutes. Some neat interplay between Chung-Yong Lee and Darren Pratley culminated in a cross from the left that bounced up off the skiddy turf and deflected beyond the helpless Tom Heaton.
In-form Bolton had their tails up, and Chris Eagles let fly with a 30-yard shot that had Heaton scampering to his left but just escaped the far post.
Slowly but surely City began to wake from their slumber, and Liam Kelly’s swirling cross threatened to catch out Adam Bogdan in the visiting goal, who misjudged the flight of the delivery and was relieved to see it disappear only inches wide.
By the midpoint in the first half, the Robins were beginning to ask some serious questions. Greg Cunningham’s run and cross down the left saw the ball cleared only as far as Stephen Pearson, but the Scot blazed his shot high into the East End from 12 yards.
Next to go close was Marvin Elliott, whose effort from distance was deflected just wide, before Albert Adomah
’s cross from the ensuing short corner only just escaped a posse of red shirts at the far post.
But Bolton remained an attacking force, and Ngog shook off the challenge of Brendan Moloney to run into the box and find Eagles, whose lay-off to the onrushing Jay Spearing was hit hard and true but rose just wide of Heaton’s right-hand post.
At the other end, another Cunningham surge culminated with a deep cross picked up by Adomah, who rather scuffed his low left-footed shot wide of the near post.
Davies was presented with an even better opening five minutes before the break. There was a hint of handball about the way the striker controlled Baldock’s low centre, but he swivelled and looked certain to score only for Bogdan to smother his low shot with his legs.
O’Driscoll played his first hand at the interval, bringing on Bates in place of Fontaine, before an electrifying start to the second half saw City draw level.
Kelly volleyed over following a corner while Heaton had to be alert to turn Pratley’s low drive around the post, before Adomah found space on the right flank and crossed perfectly for Davies to nod home from close range.
The equaliser prompted City’s best spell of the game. Twice Baldock beat the offside trap and cut the ball back – his first eluded Anderson, his second saw Adomah denied by a desperate last-ditch block from Bolton skipper Zat Knight.
Then Cunningham broke down the left, exchanging passes with Anderson and finding the flying Adomah, whose diving header into the turf bounced up and wide of the target.
As time wore on, the visitors began to look like potential winners again in a remarkably open second period.
After Knight headed straight at Heaton with Nyatanga off the field receiving treatment, Wanderers nearly capitalised again when Eagles slid the ball in behind an exposed City backline for Marvin Sordell, only for the striker to be flagged offside with a clean run on goal in what looked a marginal decision.
But the officials would soon have another say. After Haywood ignored Bolton appeals for a foul by Bates on Ngog, he reversed his decision on the advice of his assistant, and substitute Criag Davies duly converted from the spot, sending his kick straight down the middle as Heaton dived to his right.
That was not the last of the controversy either. Anderson, who replaced the injured Pearson early on, attempted an overhead kick from Adomah’s cross which seemed to strike a Bolton hand – nothing given.