A moment of international class from Jason Koumas cost City two points in the game dubbed “the biggest of the season” by manager Steve Cotterill.
The Welshman, who won 34 caps and spent several seasons in the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic in his pomp, scored for the first time since returning to the club who launched his career to earn visitors Tranmere a vital point at Ashton Gate.
Rovers twice came from behind, with Jake Cassidy cancelling out Sam Baldock’s fluked cross inside the first 19 minutes before Derrick Williams’ first career goal 13 minutes from time looked like securing City welcome back-to-back wins.
But Koumas stepped up two minutes later to find the top corner with an inch-perfect shot from 25 yards to ensure a share of the spoils.
Steve Cotterill named an unchanged team for the first time as City manager following the midweek victory at high-flying Leyton Orient.
It was arguably the visitors who made the brighter start, forcing a couple of early corners, but Baldock, so often out of luck in front of goal this season, had good fortune firmly on his side to put the Robins in front after only 13 minutes.
Continuing in his new position wide on the right, the striker chased Marlon Pack’s lofted pass in behind the full-back to just keep it in play down by the touchline.
Waiting for support in the centre, Baldock delayed before delivering a hopeful cross which caught out Tranmere keeper Owain Fon Williams and somehow find the net via the far post from a seemingly impossible angle.
But Rovers were not put off their stride and took only six minutes to draw level. Captain James Wallace’s low cross from the left was sharply controlled by Cassidy, who accelerated away from Aden Flint and dispatched a clinical left-footed finish high into the roof of the net.
It was a first half of very few openings. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ low free kick hardly broke Fon Williams into a sweat, while Ryan Lowe’s 25-yarder at the other end was equally tame.
But it was Tranmere’s 16-goal frontman who was presented with a gift of a chance to put his side in front nine minutes before the interval.
Some tricky wing play from Matthew Kennedy culminated in a cross from the right flicked on by Cassidy towards the far post, where Lowe was lurking.
However, the usually reliable poacher was left cursing himself when he could not divert the ball home from three yards as his prodded attempt with his studs missed the target.
Cotterill’s response to a subdued first period was to withdraw Tyrone Barnett at the break and offer Wes Burns another chance to impress off the bench, with Emmanuel-Thomas becoming the focal point, Baldock in behind him and Burns on the right wing.
It nearly paid immediate dividends too, as Emmanuel-Thomas’ backheel supplied Baldock with a couple of yards of space to hit a low left-footed shot comfortably fielded by Fon Williams.
But the second 45 would ultimately produce even less goalmouth action than the first. Lowe’s inswinging cross from the left corner of the penalty area was only inches away from creeping inside the far post, but chances were at a premium.
However, Williams’ landmark goal 13 minutes from time sparked a frenzied finish. Emmanuel-Thomas combined with substitute Bobby Reid, before Baldock stood up the most inviting cross to the back post for the defender to power home what looked like the winner.
Tranmere had been competitive throughout and were not prepared to lie down. When Steve Jennings picked the ball up 30 yards from goal after City failed to clear, the midfielder laid the ball square for Koumas to step on to it and curl a delicious shot into the top corner.
It was hard on City, who had been pegged back quickly for the second time in the match.
The home side were still desperate for maximum points at the expense of fellow strugglers, and Emmanuel-Thomas’ cross threatened to provide a third goal in three games for Flint, who got there in front of Fon Williams but could not keep his header down.
Tranmere went close to a winner too, as Lowe set his sights on the far corner but saw his imaginative effort curl just too late, but it was to finish all square.