Byron Moore’s stoppage-time penalty condemned City to a heartbreaking defeat at Crewe.
No League One team had conceded more goals than the Robins with the exception of their hosts at the game’s outset, but footballing logic looked set to be thrown out of the window as a goalless draw loomed.
This despite a zany period in the first half, completely out of character with the rest of the contest, in which both sides traded clear chances.
But Jay Emmanuel-Thomas wasted City’s best, shooting wide following a defensive lapse, before Scott Wagstaff was adjudged to have tripped Moore at the death.
The same man duly stepped up to send his spot-kick high down the middle of the goal to snatch victory.
Sean O’Driscoll kept faith in the same starting line-up which came so close to registering a maiden victory of the league campaign at Port Vale a fortnight ago.
The man in need of consoling that day after his mistake let Vale off the hook, Aden Flint, soon incurred the wrath of the referee after a fifth minute lunge on Anthony Grant resulted in his fifth yellow card of the season, and a suspension as a result.
When Wagstaff was tripped in full flight at the other end, it was soon one yellow card apiece.
Chances in the game were in short supply, but Bobby Reid’s delightful through ball set Sam Baldock free only for the striker to run out of support before the move fizzled out.
Instead it was the home side who were first to seriously threaten. Oliver Turton’s burst from midfield culminated in a rasping shot turned aside by Elliot Parish at his near post.
From the resulting corner, Turton was afforded too much space to drive the ball across goal where Mark Ellis was lurking, only for the defender’s effort to be blocked by his own man from no more than four yards.
The slow burner of a contest had come to life, and Emmanuel-Thomas spurned a golden chance to put City in front following a disastrous defensive mix-up.
Crewe might be universally respected for their style of football and perseverance with youth, but when veteran former Robins keeper Steve Phillips played a goal kick short and his defender into trouble.
When Adam Dugdale made a mess of his attempted pass back to base, Emmanuel-Thomas nipped in and looked certain to score only to side-foot the ball wide with half of the net at his mercy from the penalty spot.
It was a remarkable upturn in events after such an uneventful opening 20 minutes, as the chances kept coming.
Lee Molyneux burst into the box and cut back inside Brendan Moloney only to shoot weakly on his less favoured right foot straight at Parish, who went one better with a miraculous stop to keep out Moore on 27 minutes.
From Chuks Aneke’s floated diagonal pass, the winger connected perfectly with a stunning volley that looked certain to find the net only for the City custodian to react in a split-second to turn the ball on to the crossbar and out before Aneke skied the follow-up.
Bruising striker Aneke, on loan from Arsenal, then had another chance to break the deadlock when Molyneux crossed from the byeline, but he was unable to get any sort of substantial connection on the delivery as Parish comfortably fielded the danger.
After a first half in which all the action arrived in a ten-minute period, City started the second with extra intent.
Joe Bryan tried to catch out Phillips from distance with a 30-yard drive which just bounced in front of the Crewe number one, who did well to extend his left hand and divert the ball behind just as it seemed the shot might elude his reach.
But as had been the way of things up to this point, the Alex responded with a chance of their own.
Left-back Matt Tootle showed a clean pair of heels to Scott Wagstaff and delivered a cross into the path of Turton, whose volley was too high under pressure from Nicky Shorey.
With an hour on the clock and still no goals, O’Driscoll took the unusual step of withdrawing Emmanuel-Thomas, admittedly not his best, instead opting for Ryan Taylor to offer Sam Baldock something different to work with up front.
Both sides then traded long-range efforts – Bobby Reid for City and Molyneux for Crewe. Both well struck, both narrowly off target.
But you sensed something would have to give as a game between statistically the two worst defences in League One entered its final 20 minutes.
Aneke forced another routine save out of Parish but from then on it was all City, albeit without a sting in the tail.
With Taylor on the pitch there was more emphasis on getting crosses in the box, and the introduction of Stephen McLaughlin could only serve to help feed the striker.
But a collection of petty fouls when the ball was in the air contrived to halt City momentum time and again.
And then right at the last, in the cruellest way imaginable, the Robins had their wings clipped again.