Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
City’s six-year stay in the Championship came to an end following a harsh home defeat at the hands of Birmingham.
Wade Elliott scored the only goal of the game with a low shot after 16 minutes. City huffed and puffed in search of an equaliser, with Sam Baldock on the receiving end of a number of half-chances, but clear-cut openings were rarely forthcoming.
Sean O’Driscoll was forced into three changes to his side beaten 2-1 by Bolton Wanderers on home soil only four days prior.
Marvin Elliott joined Liam Fontaine and Stephen Pearson on the injured list after the pair were taken off with ankle complaints at the weekend.
The outgoing trio offered starting berths to Matthew Bates, Neil Kilkenny and Paul Anderson, while Lewin Nyatanga captained the side.
City found themselves behind inside two minutes against Bolton, but this was more of a slow burner.
The hosts forced the first real openings, as Liam Kelly saw an ambitious volley from distance whistle over the top before a fine pass in behind the Birmingham defence from Albert Adomah
freed Baldock, whose low cross only just eluded strike partner Steven Davies thanks to a timely defensive intervention.
But the visitors soon threatened for the first time through the familiar towering frame of Nikola Zigic, whose header back across goal from Shane Ferguson’s cross looked destined for the top corner only for Tom Heaton to claw the ball out.
Having only just established themselves as an attacking force in the game, Blues took the lead immediately after City were presented with an opportunity to open the scoring.
A slip from centre-back Paul Robinson left Jack Butland in trouble. When Anderson won the race to the loose ball, the winger looked certain to find Baldock with the goal at his mercy, but the England keeper was quick enough to slide in and make a crucial interception.
And within seconds the ball was in the opposite net. A weaving run from talented winger Nathan Redmond was eventually snuffed out, but the loose ball was swept into the bottom corner by Elliott from 15 yards.
An eventful five minutes then gave way for a lull in proceedings, although Zigic did find the net only to be flagged offside.
City finally responded through a driven low ball across goal from Davies which only just eluded a touch, but at the other end Redmond was wriggling between more red shirts and shooting only just wide of the near post.
With 45 minutes left to stave off relegation, City started the second half with real purpose. Davies slipped a clever pass between two defenders for Baldock, who elected to take the shot early but saw his effort beaten away by Butland when perhaps he had time to advance further towards goal.
Baldock was sent through again soon after albeit with plenty of grass in front of him, but veteran Robinson used all his experience to nick the ball away from the striker and the chance was gone.
City were beginning to dominate. Kilkenny’s deep corner was nodded back across goal by Baldock on to the head of Anderson, but Butland stood firm and the ball struck him on the chest at point-blank range.
Meanwhile, Davies was causing the visitors real problems as a target man, and headed one long ball from Nyatanga down for Baldock who shot wide from 20 yards, although he rather scuffed his effort into the skiddy turf.
At the other end, a rare Birmingham foray threatened to put the game to bed when lively West Ham United loanee Ravel Morrison conjured space for a cross begging to be headed home by Zigic, but the big Serbian opted to dangle a leg at the ball and was unable to find a killer touch at the back post.
Time was running out for City, but the trio of Adomah, Baldock and Davies continued to cause problems.
The Ghanaian fired a low ball across the six-yard box that went unrewarded, Davies saw a shot blocked at close quarters and Baldock was twice more denied by Butland.
In between times, City were indebted to Greg Cunningham for a goal-line clearance at the end of a swift Birmingham breakaway, as substitute Chris Burke’s shot looked set to dribble over the line via the body of Heaton.
It was a final act of defiance for O’Driscoll’s side. The head coach brought on youngsters Wes Burns and Toby Ajala – the latter for his debut – in search of late inspiration, but it was to be a night to forget as City’s return to the third tier was confirmed.