City struggled to victory against a team without a recognised goalkeeper for more than 45 minutes on a tough old winter grind in Scunthorpe.
Things started to get away from the luckless hosts as early as the tenth minute when number one Sam Slocombe left the field injured.
Nevertheless a lively first period ensued, with chances at both ends before Matt Smith was fouled by defender Andrew Boyce, prompting Jay Emmanuel-Thomas to slot home the resulting penalty with familiar ease.
No sooner had replacement keeper James Severn picked the ball out of his net than he was departing on a stretcher, prompting Boyce of all people to don the gloves for the first half’s closing minutes.
But any suggestions of City putting an outfield player to the sword after the break were wide of the mark, as Boyce proved an able deputy between the posts and watched his team pour forward in search of an equaliser only to finally succumb to Luke Freeman’s breakaway goal five minutes from time.
Steve Cotterill handed a debut to one of his two new loan signings, with James Tavernier replacing Mark Little at right wing-back and George Saville among the substitutes.
Elsewhere, there were recalls for Joe Bryan, Wade Elliott and Freeman – all rested for the midweek FA Cup victory over Doncaster Rovers.
But City would suffer a rude awakening inside the first 30 seconds, as Paddy Madden slid the ball down the side of the defence for Neal Bishop, whose scuffed shot beat Frank Fielding but not the covering Luke Ayling, who cleared from his own goal line with his first touch of the game.
To their credit the visitors responded brightly, as Emmanuel-Thomas threatened to find Smith in the six-yard box before goalkeeper Slocombe injured himself in punching clear a Wade Elliott cross.
It left the Scunthorpe stopper requiring lengthy treatment and ultimately having to be replaced after only ten minutes of play with what looked like a wrist injury.
The Iron, unbeaten in the league since October, rightly looked confident and not afraid to take the game to their promotion-chasing visitors.
What developed was an entertaining spectacle in driving rain which only served to speed up the pace of things.
Liam O’Neil had City worried when he pulled the ball across the face of goal with a low cross begging for a touch that went unconverted.
At the other end, Bryan’s skidding centre was not held by substitute keeper Severn, but Smith took too long to steady himself as the ball ran loose and saw his shot blocked at close quarters.
It was hectic stuff, but City would take control of proceedings in the final ten minutes before the interval, starting with the penalty decision to anger the home supporters.
When the ball was laid back for Ayling to deliver first time, his cross from the right looked just right for Smith to attack only for the big striker to be hauled down as he did so.
It looked a clear foul, but the type of which is not always penalised, prompting referee Jeremy Simpson to incur the wrath of the natives.
Emmanuel-Thomas, typically unflustered, beat Severn down to the keeper’s right with a firmly-struck penalty packing a little more punch than some of his earlier efforts this season.
City had the breakthrough and seconds later were on the prowl for number two. Emmanuel-Thomas’ clever pass released Smith, whose attempted finish with the outside of his boot was well saved by the quickly advancing Severn.
But in doing so the keeper and striker collided, leaving both in pain but only Severn unable to continue, as Mark Robins was forced into his second substitution and having to rely on defender Boyce to play the remainder of the game as an emergency goalkeeper.
That was after 42 minutes, but Boyce would have plenty more time to negotiate unscathed, not to mention a couple of wicked Elliott corners, before reaching the sanctuary of half-time at the end of eight added minutes.
City returned for the start of the second half knowing another goal could kill the game against a team missing a recognised keeper but still with plenty to play for.
Emmanuel-Thomas looked like providing it within five minutes of the restart when he powered his way beyond the last defender only to be denied by Boyce, who got the slightest of touches to divert the chance wide – much to the amazement of the City goalscorer.
Suddenly Scunthorpe’s tails were up, as the home fans rejoiced in every Boyce catch, punch and clearance.
Usually under such circumstances the team with an outfield player in goal is down to ten men, but the hosts still had a full complement and were knocking at the door for an equaliser.
Home debutant Tom Hopper, a scorer on his first appearance at Walsall last time out, was proving a menace.
The striker headed straight at Fielding, had an attempted pullback cut off by a last-ditch Derrick Williams clearance and dragged an inviting opportunity wide in quick succession.
City’s best chance to put the game to bed appeared to be through the supply of Bryan, who twice fired low balls across goal that only just eluded Smith.
Meanwhile, Elliott continued to whip left-wing corners in on poor Boyce, one of which was attacked by Aden Flint who just could not crane his neck enough to hit the target from close range.
Bryan had perhaps the best chance of the lot to bury Scunthorpe once and for all, but drilled a low shot wide with the bottom corner waiting to ripple.
Cotterill introduced Saville for the last ten minutes, which looked like being backs to the wall stuff until Freeman eased the tension with a neatly taken second after good work from Emmanuel-Thomas – himself only denied another goal by a combination of the plucky Boyce and his left-hand post.