Mark Perrow reports from the Lamb Ground
City secured their place alongside the Premier League big boys in the FA Cup with Budweiser third round, but not without a stern test at the home of Conference outfit Tamworth.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Sam Baldock scored late in each half in a tie City controlled for the most part.
But the Lambs were no pushovers and enjoyed a strong spell just before the Robins skipper put the result beyond doubt seven minutes from time.
Andy Todd gave the home team hope of snatching an unlikely replay when he bundled Tony Capaldi’s long throw untidily over the goal line, but City saw out the remaining moments with minimum fuss to progress.
Cotterill made three changes for his debut selection, drafting in Ryan Taylor as supplementary firepower alongside Baldock, with Emmanuel-Thomas deployed at the tip of a midfield diamond.
Elsewhere, loan duo Karleigh Osborne and Simon Gillett were ineligible, while Marlon Pack dropped to the bench to make way for Marvin Elliott and Joe Bryan.
Odds-on favourites City made most of the early running and threatened an early lead when Aden Flint rose highest to meet Scott Wagstaff’s corner with a downward header which the visitors uncomfortably smothered clear of their own goal line.
But a nervy moment ensued for the dominant side when Greg Cunningham allowed a square pass to roll under his foot, allowing Todd to run at the Robins’ back four.
As black shirts backed off, Todd kept running until a shooting chance presented itself inside the penalty area only for Derrick Williams to make a crucial sliding block.
Tamworth were beginning to cause problems from set-pieces, bombarding the City defence with long throws in particular, but it was Cotterill’s men who carried the more considered threat.
A well-worked team move midway through the half involving Baldock and Brendan Moloney culminated in a Scott Wagstaff cross cleared only to Emmanuel-Thomas on the edge of the box, who uncharacteristically dragged his volley wide.
But after another Emmanuel-Thomas shot eluded the target from a free kick and prompted taunts from the home supporters, City’s top scorer would have the last laugh.
Picking up possession just inside the Tamworth half, the powerful number ten carried the ball menacingly into shooting range and unleashed a left-footed thunderbolt into the top corner to silence three sides of the Lamb Ground.
The opener knocked the hosts, who would have been facing a mountain to climb had Taylor made any sort of connection with Emmanuel-Thomas’ perfectly flighted free kick which drifted past the post only by a matter of inches.
The second half began in a similar vein, as City continued to press for a second. An excellent block from former Northern Ireland international Tony Capaldi kept Baldock at bay from Taylor’s knockdown.
Then Lambs keeper Cameron Belford saw his clearance strike Baldock and fall to Wagstaff, who had to shoot first time on his left foot from a long way out and sent his effort well wide of goal.
Baldock was proving a menace, twice sending low shots just wide of the far post, while inbetween times only a heavy first touch cost Nick Chadwick a one-on-one with Elliott Parish as the tie opened up.
But an even better chance would fall the way of Chadwick’s strike partner, as Justin Richards beat the offside trap to run in behind a static City defence and had all the time in the world to pick his spot only to pull a right-footed shot wide.
It was a gilt-edged chance for the underdogs, who had not had many, but also served as a timely reminder that City still had work to do.
It was not the end of the flurry of chances either, as Bryan teed up Greg Cunningham inside the box only for the Irishman to inexplicably send his shot over the away terrace from 12 yards.
Cotterill’s first substitution in the City hotseat saw Taylor sacrificed for an extra midfield body in Pack, with Emmanuel-Thomas pushed further forward.
Tamworth responded with a change of their own, introducing former City striker Darren Byfield, who immediately threatened to haunt his former employers when he threw himself at a teasing Richards cross but could not find the telling touch.
The Conference team could sense their opportunity to force a replay, particularly when Parish juggled an innocuous looping header on to his own crossbar.
But Baldock finally put the tie to bed with the goal his own performance merited, racing on to an Emmanuel-Thomas flick on not dealt with by Ben Richards-Everton to clip a cool finish over the advancing Belford and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
There was still time for Todd to give the home team faint hope of forcing an equaliser when the assistant referee debatably judged his shot had crossed the line, but it would prove only enough to prevent a rare City clean sheet – not a welcome victory.