Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
A typically spectacular equaliser from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas saved City from a painful defeat at home to Shrewsbury Town.
Having trailed through Jon Taylor’s first-half opener for the bulk of the evening, City’s most unpredictable attacking weapon came up trumps with a powerful right-footed shot five minutes from time.
Sean O’Driscoll made three changes to his side in the wake of a disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Peterborough on Saturday, opting for more experience in the shape of Nicky Shorey and Marvin Elliott.
The two Londoners (combined age of 61) replaced Greg Cunningham and Bobby Reid (combined age 42), while there was also a recall for Derrick Williams at the expense of Brendan Moloney, as James O’Connor filled the void vacated at right-back.
The visitors, neat and tidy in possession early on, fired the first warning shots through Curtis Main and Aaron Wildig – both off target – before Sam Baldock broke through but could not pick out Scott Wagstaff in the penalty area.
After Taylor threatened again for the Shrews from distance, the same player was in the right place at the right time to finish off a slick counter-attack on 28 minutes.
From a free kick given questionably in City’s favour wide on the right touchline, Joe Bryan’s delivery was easily collected by former Robins keeper Chris Weale, who quickly initiated the breakaway.
Seconds later, Luke Summerfield’s pass in midfield exposed the left side of the home defence, as Main found acres of space and delivered a perfect low cross for Taylor to convert from six yards.
City were unable to respond in the first half, while Shrewsbury were in no hurry to add to their lead.
Baldock’s lay-off for Emmanuel-Thomas to test Weale was an early sign of intent just after the break, and the Shrewsbury number one was at full stretch to turn a stunning left-footed drive over the top from the City captain soon after.
A rare Shrews foray resulted in a somewhat wild Summerfield shot sliced wide, before central defender Darren Jones put his foot through a 25-yard free kick which only just eluded the crossbar.
O’Driscoll responded by adding more firepower in the shape of Marlon Harewood from the bench, sacrificing Elliott to revert to a three-man midfield.
And before long, the experienced frontman was bringing Ashton Gate to its feet, sending a looping header from Wagstaff’s cross against the angle of post and bar with Weale scrambling to his left to no avail.
City were certainly upping the ante, and an inswinging free kick from Bryan was uncomfortably punched out by Weale straight to Baldock, whose first touch was decent but his second was disappointingly too high.
There was a liveliness about the home team now, and Baldock was only denied by a crucial last-ditch tackle from Connor Goldson when fed by Harewood.
But instead of piling on the pressure in the last 20 minutes, City struggled to pin down the opposition, and Emmanuel-Thomas only succeeded in fuelling fan frustrations with an ugly shot from 25 yards that ended up about three goals too high.
But the same man turned from zero to hero with a stunning equaliser five minutes from time.
Having been on the periphery of things throughout the game, the mercurial forward unleashed a fierce 25-yard shot with his right foot which flew past Weale into the net.
Suddenly, the home crowd were universally behind their team, who nearly responded with a dramatic winner when substitute Bobby Reid‘s cross landed just a fraction beyond Aden Flint at the far post.
But it was destined to end all square – a result much more welcome at the game’s conclusion than before kick-off.