Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
City were undone by a late sucker punch after a much-improved second-half display looked set to earn at least a point against highly-fancied Wolves.
Matt Doherty claimed an untidy winner five minutes from time after Jay Emmanuel-Thomas cancelled out Bakary Sako’s first-half opener shortly after the break.
Sean O’Driscoll’s side were booed off at the interval, but the home faithful could have no complaints with the way their team responded, but a notable treble chance was not taken on 64 minutes when Sam Baldock was twice denied and Aden Flint headed wide.
The City head coach named two changes to his side who started the scarcely believable 5-4 defeat against Coventry City on a strange afternoon in Northampton.
Liam Fontaine and Marvin Elliott were the casualties, as Jordan Wynter was recalled in midfield and Derrick Williams stepped in for his first professional start at the heart of the City back four.
Promotion favourites Wolves, buoyant after a 4-0 win over Gillingham last time out, started brightly.
Leigh Griffiths unleashed a ferocious strike from distance that had to be turned aside by Frank Fielding, before Sako tested the City keeper’s handling with a shot which bounced awkwardly in front of him.
But City would grow into the contest Jay Emmanuel-Thomas showing his unpredictable nature, starting with a speculative attempt from 40 yards which never left the ground.
However, his next contribution was more telling – a slide rule pass into Baldock who forced the Robins’ first corner.
When the resulting kick was taken short and quickly snuffed out, Emmanuel-Thomas launched a long throw which Carl Ikeme made a hash of in the Wolves goal only to escape unscathed.
O’Driscoll’s side were still yet to threaten a serious attempt until Wynter fired over from the edge of the penalty area, before Sako struck a clinical opener – curling a fine left-footed free kick over the wall and into the top corner at the near post from 25 yards.
A disjointed City display left the home team in danger of being picked off by a team who only graced the Premier League two seasons ago.
One of the survivors from the heady heights, Kevin Doyle, twice tried his luck from distance – forcing Fielding into a theatrical parry before a low drive was deflected wide.
Elsewhere, Danny Batth was only just off target with a header from Sako’s corner, before O’Driscoll responded with a first half substitution, introducing Joe Bryan for Neil Kilkenny to give City’s 4-4-2 a more orthodox feel with Bryan and Scott Wagstaff providing natural width on both sides.
Wolves came out after the interval looking hungry for the second goal which might just kill off the home side, but some slick attacking football came to nothing before City levelled things up in the driving rain at Ashton Gate.
Great work from Baldock was at the heart of it, as he got the better of Richard Stearman from a seemingly lost cause and carried the ball into the box from the right side, sensibly electing to look up and seek help from a tight angle.
Arriving on the scene, right on cue, was man of the moment Emmanuel-Thomas to slide the ball low into the net for the equaliser.
Suddenly, City were full of life. Baldock was twice denied by Ikeme in quick succession – both fine saves, as he drove the first shot across him and poked the second high to his right – before Flint’s glancing header just escaped the far post.
It was turning into some spectacle. City were throwing everything at Wolves now, but the visitors still maintained a potent attacking threat.
Sako drove at Brendan Moloney down the Wolves left and fired a low ball across goal for Doyle, who slid in and looked destined to score only for Fielding to make an excellent point-blank save.
But Wolves would have the last laugh when Doherty headed Sako’s cross down into the ground and up over Fielding, where a combination of Flint and Doyle forced the ball into the net for a cruel winner.
Substitute Jake Cassidy should have made sure of the points after Emmanuel-Thomas threatened to equalise, but having beaten Fielding, the Wolves man inexplicably blazed over in the dying moments.