City were denied a fourth straight victory by a resilient display as ten-man Swindon held on for a goalless draw to inflict on the Robins a dose of their own medicine.
Just four days after Steve Cotterill’s side had kept promotion-chasing Peterborough United at bay with a man short for more than three-quarters of the game, the roles were reversed after Swindon’s Alex Pritchard saw red on 55 minutes.
City were a constant threat following a cagey first 20 minutes, but ultimately unable to conjure a first win over their West Country rivals in 11 years.
Manager Cotterill handed a debut to defender Nyron Nosworthy, who replaced the suspended Adam El-Abd in the only change following Tuesday’s heroics at London Road, with fellow loan signing Martin Paterson among the substitutes.
A spicy atmosphere helped by an away following in excess of 2,000 from Wiltshire spilled over on to the pitch as early as the second minute when Louis Thompson went into the book for a late lunge on Scott Wagstaff.
With referee Trevor Kettle making clear his intentions not to cut the players any slack from the off, defender Troy Archibald-Henville could have been considered fortunate to escape similar punishment for a trip on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas which hovered somewhere between clumsy and cynical.
The opening exchanges were a classic example of both sides not wanting to give anything away – Swindon having shipped four at home to Wolves in midweek; City without a clean sheet this year.
Town left-back Jay McEveley tried his luck with his weaker right foot with a shot which just lacked the necessary curl to trouble Frank Fielding, before the Robins produced the best move of the game by some distance on 22 minutes.
A sequence of passes started by Simon Gillett saw Sam Baldock release Greg Cunningham down the left. The Irishman’s intelligent cutback found the onrushing Wade Elliott, whose first-time shot forced towards the bottom corner forced a decent sprawling save from Wes Foderingham in the Swindon goal.
That chance lifted not only the noise levels inside Ashton Gate, but also the tempo of the game, which gradually began to open up.
Winger Pritchard, shortlisted for the League One Player of the Year award, spotted the run of lanky striker Michael Smith soon after.
When Pritchard’s clipped ball was headed out by Derrick Williams, Australian Massimo Luongo was quick to seize on the loose ball and drill a low shot a couple of yards wide of the far post.
At the other end, Cunningham’s excellent cross from deep prompted a looping header from Baldock which had Foderingham nervously backpedalling, before Baldock’s cross was just too high for Emmanuel-Thomas and Wagstaff saw a shot from range deflect away for a corner.
The former Charlton Athletic man might have been breathing a sigh of relief when his reckless lunge on danger man Pritchard was only punished by a yellow card shortly before the interval.
The visitors would have been smarting had the same man opened the scoring at the start of the second period.
Some excellent work from Elliott saw the midfielder weave between two challenges and fire a low shot against the legs of Foderingham. As the ball broke kindly into Wagstaff’s pass, his left-footed shot lacked the same conviction and was blocked with Foderingham still getting to his feet.
It was a purposeful opening to the half from the home team, as illustrated by another Elliott burst down the right side of the penalty area which culminated in a low cross to the back post which looked to have run too far before Emmanuel-Thomas slid in to hook it goalwards and was only denied by the width of the near post.
Swindon were on the back foot, and their case was not helped by the dismissal of Pritchard ten minutes into the second half for a stupid push into the chest of Elliott, who fell to the floor and left Kettle with little option but to produce a flash of red.
It was Elliott’s initial foul on Pritchard that instigated the reaction, and, after the City man was booked for his troubles, Ryan Harley produced his side’s best moment of the half.
The former City midfielder, who started his career at Ashton Gate, forced Fielding into a diving save from the resulting 30-yard free kick.
After the ball ran away for a corner, Harley’s delivery was headed goalwards by Smith and saved by Fielding, before the keeper sprung to his feet to make another important stop from the same player on the rebound.
Suddenly those labouring opening 20 minutes felt very much a thing of the past, as the contest ebbed and flowed towards a conclusion.
Cotterill threw on Wes Burns, Marlon Pack and later Paterson for his debut in search of a winner.
It was Burns’ by now trademark raids down the right which looked to represent City’s best chance of finding it, and from one low cross Emmanuel-Thomas just dawdled too long before Jack Stephens dived in to take the sting out of his eventual shot.
Still the hosts kept coming, but Emmanuel-Thomas’ last-minute corner somehow eluded everyone inside the danger zone and Swindon hung on for a gritty point.