City continued their perfect defensive record in Sky Bet League One since the turn of the year with a significant clean sheet at the home of nearest title challengers MK Dons.
A fixture full of goals in its brief history was short on clear chances throughout, leaving visitors City the happier with a share of the spoils and a fourth straight clean sheet in the league in front of over 5,000 travelling fans.
Steve Cotterill made two changes to his side, welcoming Luke Freeman and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas back into his starting line-up at the expense of George Saville and Kieran Agard.
City, sporting black shorts with their usual home kit, started brightly in front of a noisy away following – the club’s biggest since the famous Anfield FA Cup victory of 1994.
Freeman was looking lively and refreshed in the early stages, while Joe Bryan’s sprightly burst down the left ultimately produced a cross just beyond the reach of Matt Smith.
Meanwhile, the hosts fired a series of warning shots, as Carl Baker (twice) and Darren Potter both tried their luck, but neither could suitably test Frank Fielding.
The Dons were looking the more likely scorers, but City’s threat increased later in the first half.
Kyle McFadzean twice had to slide in to make crucial interceptions, once to prevent the ball running through to Bryan, the other time Smith, as wing-backs Mark Little and Bryan began to raid the flanks with greater purpose.
Still City were yet to test David Martin, but the home goalkeeper was called upon to make an important double stop on 33 minutes.
Emmanuel-Thomas’ eyes lit up as the ball rolled invitingly towards him 20 yards from goal, forcing Martin into a stooping save with a right-footed daisy-cutter, before Bryan drilled the follow-up against the keeper’s legs from a tight angle.
Slowly but surely a surprisingly subdued affair was boiling up, not least when Daniel Powell was denied a penalty after clashing with Bryan in the City box.
Then Darren Potter connected sweetly from distance and saw his shot sail just over Fielding’s crossbar via a slight deflection.
There was a new lease of life about City straight from the off at the start of the second half.
Wade Elliott, who went from zero to hero in the reverse fixture at Ashton Gate way back in September, embarked on a surging run right through the heart of the home side, eventually nudging the ball to his left for Emmanuel-Thomas.
It seemed tailor made for the striker to score, but City’s maverick number ten took too long to step on to the ball with his right foot and saw his shot blocked by Antony Kay before Martin had cause for concern.
But the game soon retreated back into its shell, with neither team prepared to take too many risks.
The most likely source of a goal looked to be from the countless corners being whipped into the box from both sides at both ends.
It took 20 second half minutes for either goalkeeper to be properly extended, as Martin dived to his left to keep out an Emmanuel-Thomas thunderbolt from 30 yards – the first time he had been able to line one up on his favoured left boot.
Seconds later City were on the attack again, as Elliott’s cross to the back post was met by a Bryan header straight into the arms of Martin.
It was a good spell for the visitors as the contest entered its final quarter, and the masses behind Martin’s goal were claiming a penalty when the ball bounced up and struck an arm, but referee Craig Pawson remained unmoved.
Another set-piece would pave the way for a rare chance for the Dons when Fielding saved from Kay, who was no more than six yards from goal but unable to generate sufficient power to beat the City number one.
By this time Cotterill had brought on former local favourite Aaron Wilbraham in place of Smith for his first appearance since December 20th.
It was an attacking change but City were looking more and more content with an away point, surviving loud appeals when substitute Samir Carruthers checked inside and smashed a shot against the outstretched arm of Luke Ayling who escaped unpunished.
The defender’s arm was certainly raised as he slid in to make the block, but any level of intent was surely accidental.
Soon enough Little was going down at the other end under a challenge from Dons stalwart Dean Lewington, but again referee Pawson was unmoved.
As the game entered its final minute of normal time, Tottenham Hotspur deadline day signing Dele Alli – immediately loaned back to Stadium:MK – let fly with a stunning shot to beat Fielding but fizz inches past his left upright.
It was to be the last meaningful act on a tense afternoon at the end of which Cotterill must surely be the happier boss.