City returned to league action after 15 days with maximum points to leapfrog next opponents MK Dons in returning to the Sky Bet League One summit.
Striker Matt Smith continued his remarkable goalscoring form with a much-needed 52nd minute opener to break down stiff resistance from play-off chasing Fleetwood Town at Ashton Gate, before substitute Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made sure of the victory with a late second on the break.
City started the game in unusually slack fashion and the visitors created a series of chances before the hosts found their feet.
It was Steve Cotterill’s side who ended the first half on top, causing countless problems from set-pieces before Smith finally broke the deadlock seven minutes after the interval from another dead-ball situation.
From then on City were rarely threatened, and Emmanuel-Thomas combined with fellow replacement Luke Freeman to finish off the Cod Army once and for all.
Manager Cotterill was quick to freshen things up at the end of another hectic week, handing Kieran Agard a first start of 2015 for City’s third home game in three different competitions over the course of eight days.
Elsewhere, there were recalls for Mark Little, Joe Bryan, George Saville and captain Wade Elliott, as James Tavernier, Greg Cunningham, Marlon Pack, Freeman and Emmanuel-Thomas dropped to the bench.
It was the visitors who started the better. Striker Jamie Proctor redirected a Gareth Evans shot off target, while Josh Morris forced Frank Fielding into a save at his near post before Nick Haughton’s attempted curler was deflected just beyond the far upright.
This was all inside the first ten minutes, and Fielding was soon called into action again to keep a 30-yard drive from Evans at bay down by his right-hand post.
City were struggling to cope, as lively youngster Haughton got the better of Korey Smith in midfield and found Evans, whose deep cross was headed over by Proctor.
It would take 16 minutes for the home fans to see the sort of attacking intensity they have come to expect in the early stages of games at Ashton Gate this season.
Agard showed strength and determination to bundle his way through a couple of challenges to find a shooting position, ultimately scuffing a left-footed strike into the ground, which bounced up towards the top corner and forced a stunning save from the previously untested Chris Maxwell.
It was the first flash of the threat City pose as the promotion chasers showed signs of warming to their task.
Fielding would have to be alert again to deny Proctor before Bryan escaped two challenges down the left, driving into the box and hammering low shot towards the far corner which Maxwell did well to keep out with Agard preparing to pounce.
City were definitely improving as the first half wore on. Little was just muscled out of it after Bryan latched on to a brilliant Elliott pass inside the full-back to hang up a cross to the back post, before Aden Flint and Agard were both denied by Maxwell from an Elliott free kick.
There were further half-chances for Flint, Matt Smith and Elliott as the interval approached but Maxwell remained untested, while Flint thundered a header towards the bottom corner only kept out by man on the line Conor McLaughlin.
Fleetwood were having to withstand a late barrage of corners, and there was still time for Flint to send one into the building site behind Maxwell’s goal with the best chance of the lot, heading over from six yards.
There would have been questions posed by Cotterill at the break surrounding City’s lacklustre start, but the manager would have been demanding more of the same after his players finished the half well on top.
The home side responded with a similarly high-tempo opening to the second period.
Bryan had been a shining light in a distinctly average team performance, and his cross from the left produced the first opportunity after the interval when Agard leapt highest but could not head the ball on target.
Then it was from a Bryan set-piece that Smith struck the opener – goal number 11 in 14 appearances in City red.
It was a needless foul on the left touchline that contributed to Fleetwood’s downfall, as Bryan picked himself up to deliver a teasing cross missed at the near post by Agard but not by his strike partner, as Smith drilled a low shot through Maxwell, who could not react in time to keep the big man at bay from no more than eight yards.
It was proving a much less eventful second half following the chance-ridden first 45 minutes, but Morris called Fielding into action with a curling free kick which had to be clawed away just under the crossbar.
City were desperate for a second goal to kill the game. Flint was guilty of another miss, heading high into the Atyeo Stand from another Elliott corner, albeit having been penalised for a push in the process.
Then Korey Smith led a quick counter-attack which left City three on two, feeding Bryan on the left whose low cross was begging for a touch from the sliding Agard who only succeeding in clattering into Maxwell.
The second goal would finally arrive deep into added time, as Freeman showed some slick footwork and an eye for a pass to slice open an exposed Fleetwood backline, allowing Emmanuel-Thomas to saunter through and send City back to the top ahead of a mouth-watering clash at Stadium:MK next Saturday.