City were left frustrated by a dogged defensive display as visitors Gillingham dug out an away point at Ashton Gate in the fifth meeting between the sides this season.
Having won three of the previous four, the Sky Bet League One leaders had every reason to be confident, but the Gills are a different animal under new manager Justin Edinburgh and proved an impossible nut to crack as a dominant second half from the hosts went unrewarded.
Steve Cotterill named the same team for the fourth game in succession, having won the previous three on the road at Leyton Orient, Crawley Town and Yeovil Town respectively.
It was a subdued sort of opening – hardly surprising considering the number of meetings between the clubs already this season.
It was as if both sides simply knew one another too well and could no longer surprise their opponents.
Having said that, City survived an early scare when Bradley Dack sneaked around the back to meet a far-post corner but could not direct the chance on target.
The table toppers responded with an opportunity of their own from a set-piece, as Luke Freeman’s deep corner was headed back across goal by Luke Ayling and over the bar by Aden Flint.
Openings from general play were proving hard to come by, but slowly but surely City began to take control.
Joe Bryan was becoming increasingly influential, profiting from the Gills’ diamond midfield which offered little protection for right-back Gavin Hoyte.
First he burst into the penalty area and appeared to be barged over by visiting captain Loft, but referee David Webb was not interested in loud appeals from the Atyeo Stand and awarded a City corner instead.
But Bryan would continue to try his luck down the wing, sending one floated cross towards Aaron Wilbraham at the back post before a low and driven delivery was pounced upon by goalkeeper Stuart Nelson.
In the meantime, Cotterill was having to shuffle his pack sooner than he would have liked, as Derrick Williams was forced off on the half hour, prompting the introduction of Greg Cunningham in an unfamiliar left-sided centre-back role.
It had not been one of City’s brighter halves of football this season but there was a greater level of intensity about the hosts after the interval.
Bryan continued to be a thorn in the side of poor Hoyte, who was having a torrid time dealing with the young legs of the energetic Bristolian.
A typical run to the byeline saw him cut the ball back just beyond the collection of onrushing red shirts, while Wilbraham connected with a cross from Pack but sent his glancing header inches wide.
City were beginning to pile on the pressure. Freeman deceived the Gills defence to beat his man on the outside and cross with his right foot towards Ayling, who had time to take a touch only to sky his shot from the corner of the six-yard box.
Then another Bryan burst and low cross whistled just inches beyond the reach of the sliding Wilbraham.
Gillingham’s resilience was admirable, but the visitors were indebted to a stroke of luck when Webb deemed a clear foul on Flint not worthy of a penalty when the big defender was hauled down under a high ball by left-back Joe Martin.
Cotterill made his move 15 minutes from time, introducing Jay Emmanuel-Thomas for Agard and rather more curiously James Tavernier for Bryan.
It had become almost total domination, but City were breathing a sigh of relief seven minutes from time when Luke Norris led a Gills counter-attack and saw a speculative low shot beat Frank Fielding via a massive deflection off team-mate Dack, only for the scorer to be flagged offside.
Still City continued to commit more bodies forward. Emmanuel-Thomas was denied by the stooping Nelson before Freeman fired over from 20 yards.