City brushed aside a promotion rival on their own patch as Peterborough United were put to the sword under the lights at the ABAX Stadium.
Both sides were trading blows in the early weeks of the season, but Posh’s recent decline was evident as the table toppers stormed out of the blocks to almost kill the game inside the opening 16 minutes.
Luke Freeman scored the first of a personal brace with an early opener set up by former home favourite Mark Little, before Aaron Wilbraham headed home a stunning Joe Bryan cross five minutes later.
City were completely untroubled from start to finish, and Freeman added his second after the interval with a low shot to give the scoreline a deservedly one-sided look.
Steve Cotterill’s side, unchanged from the home defeat against Preston North End last time out, started brightly on a difficult wet pitch showing signs of wear straight from the first whistle.
One scuffed clearance aside from Frank Fielding, which presented an early chance fired high and wide by Joe Newell, City were dominant throughout the first half.
Bryan twice fired over and Wilbraham wasted an inviting opportunity to feed Little down the right before the former Peterborough man played a key role in the opening goal after 11 minutes.
It was a trademark burst from Little, the type Posh fans came accustomed to seeing from the wing-back in his four years with the club, that did the damage, as he surged into the box and found a low cross not dealt with by the Peterborough defence.
When the ball ran loose for Freeman, the midfielder spun and struck his shot with conviction into the corner of the net via a slight deflection to beat the motionless Ben Alnwick from 12 yards.
Five minutes later the Posh keeper was picking the ball out of his own net for a second time as City converted their relentless pressure into a convincing early lead.
Bryan had started the game particularly well and the Bristolian showed great desire to dig out a cross from the byeline and ability to find the head of Wilbraham, who gleefully nodded home goal number 12 for the season at the far post.
It was a tremendous goal all round, starting with a fine Derrick Williams pass to set Bryan on his way, whose wicked delivery tempted Alnwick to vacate his line just for a split-second before Wilbraham rose highest to power his header inside the near upright from six yards.
City were showing no signs of slowing down as the opening period wore on. The ever involved Bryan forced a save from Alnwick diving to his left, with Little only denied a shot at the loose ball by a last-ditch sliding tackle.
Then another cutback from Little, not dissimilar to his assist, only just evaded Kieran Agard in poacher’s territory.
Meanwhile, Marlon Pack was enjoying one of his best games in the midfield holding role, and threatened to register a goal of the season contender on the half-hour mark.
Controlling the ball on his chest 25 yards from goal, he flicked it over the head of Jermaine Anderson and met it on the other side of his opponent with a stunning right-footed volley which only stayed out via the top of the crossbar.
Little had to be alert from a rare Peterborough attack late in the half to stop Newell in his tracks as the winger bore down on goal, but City could reflect on one of their brightest 45 minutes of the season at the interval.
The enterprising nature of the visitors’ attacking play was reflected in their first sight of goal after the break, as Peterborough were fooled by a disguised free kick routine involving four players in which Bryan ultimately stepped up to force Alnwick into another stooping save.
The natives had been acclaiming the return of former favourites Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith at kick-off, with the strike pair sharing 150 league goals for the club between them reunited at the ABAX, but neither man had been given a sniff by the time Freeman struck his second of the game on 64 minutes to put City out of sight.
Again it would come down to some clever thinking at a set-piece, as Pack took a 35-yard free kick short and quickly to Freeman, who carried the ball towards the edge of the penalty area, cut back on to his left foot and dispatched an accurate low shot inside Alnwick’s near post from 20 yards.
From that point on City were remarkably comfortable, not that they were not before, but the wind in the sails of the home team had been reduced to nothing more than a flutter.
Cotterill handed a debut to 6ft 6in loan signing Matt Smith in the closing stages, partnering Wilbraham in one of the tallest City strikeforces in living memory.
There was still time for Wilbraham to add a horrible miss to the evening’s entertainment, skying the ball over the crossbar from four yards after Smith’s aerial presence forced a mistake from Alnwick under a hanging Little cross.
“We are staying up,” was the ironic cry from the promotion-chasing hosts. City’s ambitions could hardly be more different and, on this evidence, understandably so.