Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
City had to settle for a point on their return to League One despite twice taking the lead against League Two play-off winners Bradford.
Scott Wagstaff and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas struck either side of half-time to get their Ashton Gate careers off to the perfect start, but two soft equalisers from Nahki Wells and Rory McArdle – the latter 11 minutes from time – were enough to frustrate the hosts on the opening day.
Sean O’Driscoll handed debuts to five summer signings, as Fielding, Wagstaff, Emmanuel-Thomas, Aden Flint and Jordan Wynter all started a competitive fixture for the first time in City red, while Sam Baldock captained the side.
A promising start from the hosts, in which some slick passing was easy on the eye, was almost undone from a set-piece when Wells headed a Mark Yeates free kick against Fielding’s left-hand post, before firing the rebound down into the ground and up over the bar.
It was a let off for the Robins, who had otherwise controlled the entirety of the opening exchanges, and were rewarded with the deadlock breaker inside 11 minutes.
When Emmanuel-Thomas attempted to wriggle into space on the edge of the Bradford box, the ball broke kindly for Wagstaff to steer the ball into the net via the far post from ten yards.
This time last year there were two divisions between the sides, and such a gulf was evident as City continued to dictate the tempo of the contest.
Neil Kilkenny was at the heart of most midfield probing, and his pass set Brendan Moloney free down the right flank to pick out Emmanuel-Thomas, whose low drive was just skewed off target.
Bradford, Capital One Cup finalists earlier this year, were looking uneasy defensively, as McArdle made a mess of a long ball forward and presented it to Baldock, whose curling shot only just eluded the far corner via a slight deflection.
But as the first half progressed, the visitors gradually began to grow into the game, and stole an equaliser out of nothing 12 minutes before the interval.
An innocuous long ball down the Bradford left invited Fielding to come a long way to the corner of his penalty area only to be beaten to it by the gangly frame of James Hanson, who had the presence of mind to find Wells unmarked to drill a shot past emergency keeper Liam Fontaine into the otherwise unguarded City net for an untidy leveller.
As the second half began, City’s performance began to reflect the weather conditions – the sun that had greeted the opening exchanges in which O’Driscoll’s men were so in control had made way from driving rain, as the Robins struggled to prevent lengthy spells of Bradford pressure.
But the extent of the Bantams’ creativity was limited, and City showed superior class in the final third to retake the lead completely against the run of play.
As Emmanuel-Thomas coasted into the Bradford half almost at walking pace, he sprayed the ball wide for Baldock and waltzed into the area for the return pass.
When it arrived, the former Ipswich Town striker took a touch and calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner for his first City goal.
Marlon Pack became the sixth debutant of the day in the home ranks, taking the place of Joe Bryan just after the hour and immediately getting to work displaying a fine array of passing from a deep-lying midfield position.
But even the added height of Ryan Taylor from the bench was powerless to prevent a second Bradford equaliser, as McArdle glanced in Raffaele De Vita’s corner at the near post to send the 1,000 travelling away fans into ecstasy.
A remarkably open finale saw chances fall by the wayside for Baldock, Wells, De Vita, Flint and Greg Cunningham, who headed against the legs of Bradford keeper Jon McLaughlin in the final minute, but an entertaining contest was destined to end all square.