Rotherham United departed BS3 in very different circumstances to their last visit after two first-half goals clinched victory for the Millers in driving rain at Ashton Gate.
Nouha Dicko and Ben Pringle were both on target to leave City with a mountain to climb at the break in Steve Cotterill’s first home game in charge.
But the manager’s message at the interval had the desired effect as the Robins came out fighting and very nearly snatched a point after Bobby Reid fluked his first senior goal late on.
However, defeat left City propping up the Sky Bet League One table at full time – a far cry from the last time the same fixture was played back in 2007 when supporters rushed on to the pitch to celebrate promotion to the Championship.
Cotterill made one change to his side victorious at Tamworth in the FA Cup with Budweiser last time out, with on-loan midfielder Simon Gillett available again to take the place of Millers old boy Ryan Taylor as City reverted to a traditional 4-4-2 formation.
But the new boss was to suffer a nightmare start as Dicko pounced to put the visitors in front inside three minutes.
Kieran Agard’s 25-yard shot was well struck but too close to Elliott Parish to beat the Robins keeper. However, the usually reliable stopper made hard work of what looked a routine save, pushing the ball straight to the goalscorer, who bundled it home via an untidy deflection from close range.
Rotherham, occupying the final play-off place at the start of the weekend, were full of confidence.
Left-back James Tavernier let fly with powerful drive Parish had to be alert to turn aside for a corner, before Lee Frecklington’s shot from the resulting set-piece deflected only inches wide.
City were really struggling to settle with United threatening a second. Next to go close was Alex Revell, who connected sweetly on his left foot only for Aden Flint to throw his body on the line and make a crucial block.
Cotterill could have no complaints when the Millers predictably doubled their lead on 27 minutes – at least not about the merits of the scoreline.
The defending, on the other hand, would undoubtedly come under heavy scrutiny.
What started as a promising attack on the edge of the Rotherham box went astray when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ lay-off was intercepted by Frecklington, who charged downfield completely unchallenged.
The Rotherham midfielder would find his way inside the City penalty area before a challenge was forthcoming, eventually having to set up team-mate Pringle to dispatch a low left-footed shot just inside the far post.
It took until the final ten minutes of the first half for the Robins to click into gear, as Sam Baldock turned and fired a low shot across goal that had to be cleared at the back post with Scott Wagstaff lurking – even if the original effort was not on target.
Baldock was a threat again when his instinctive strike from distance just skipped past the post, but it had been 45 minutes to forget for the home team.
Cotterill’s next move was to bring on Nicky Shorey for Joe Bryan before the start of the second period.
But his side continued to struggle to create chances against a visiting side now content to sit on their lead.
In fact it was Rotherham who spurned the best opportunity to get the next goal, as Revell latched on to Frecklington’s header over the top only to snatch at the bouncing ball and send his shot wide of goal.
Reid replaced Brendan Moloney soon after in a tactical reshuffle which saw Wagstaff drop to right-back.
That sparked an increase in the tempo of City’s attacking play. Marvin Elliott tried his luck from range and forced a stooping save from Adam Collin before Greg Cunningham reached the byeline and pulled the ball back for Baldock at the near post, who was only denied by the legs of a defender at close quarters.
Then Elliott’s cross from the right deflected kindly into the path of Cunningham only for the Irishman to lift his shot high into the Atyeo Stand from 14 yards.
Cunningham seemed to be the man on the end of every cross, particularly when Emmanuel-Thomas’ teasing corner bounced untouched inside the six-yard box and just eluded the defender at the back post.
City had become the dominant side, yet Rotherham did not look unduly troubled by constant Robins pressure.
Gillett came close with a left-footed daisy cutter which just whistled past the post, before Emmanuel-Thomas’ perfectly weighted through ball sent Wagstaff clear down the right, only for Tavernier to get a timely toe on his shot after a slightly loose first touch invited the challenge.
City’s improved second-half performance was finally rewarded when Reid’s corner found its way back to the 20-year-old, whose second cross from the left eluded everybody to nestle in the far corner of the net.
Baldock came closest to a dramatic equaliser when he raced on to an Emmanuel-Thomas flick to shoot with power across the keeper only for Collin to make a vital save before his defence smuggled the ball to safety.