Aaron Wilbraham headed a late equaliser to give City the least they deserved from another encouraging away performance at Preston North End.
City were unquestionably superior for the vast majority of an entertaining game between two of last season’s Sky Bet League One promotion rivals.
But Joe Garner struck the crossbar from distance and Frank Fielding saved smartly from Daniel Johnson as the hosts enjoyed their best spell either side of half-time, culminating in a stunning strike from former Robin Neil Kilkenny to break the deadlock.
However, City would continue to impress with the ball, and finally got the goal their efforts merited when Wilbraham buried a terrific header past inspired goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Steve Cotterill named an unchanged team following Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at Birmingham City, while familiar faces Greg Cunningham and Kilkenny lined up for the hosts.
City enjoyed the first spell of sustained possession before Nathan Baker was left needing treatment after dishing out a meaty tackle down by the corner flag.
But it was Preston who fired the first warning shot, as Chris Humphrey showed his pace to win a race with Joe Bryan in latching on to a floated pass that he took well in his stride and lashed only just beyond the far post.
That was before Pickford was forced into the first notable save of the match inside eight minutes.
The on-loan Sunderland keeper must have seen Luke Freeman’s shot late as it fizzed through a crowd of bodies and bounced up awkwardly, but the youngster responded with a fine one-handed stop.
Unfortunately for City, Baker was unable to shake off his early injury and was replaced by Derrick Williams after only 14 minutes of an engaging contest.
The relatively frantic opening exchanges would give way to a more measured approach from both teams – a battle that seemed to suit the visitors, who began to boss possession.
Jonathan Kodjia’s runs between defenders were giving Preston food for thought and only a poor piece of officiating prevented an excellent chance when he tricked his way into the box from the corner flag, only to be called back for a foul in his favour when the referee really should have played on.
The in-form striker was looking lively again and soon latched on to Liam Moore’s slide-rule pass and jinked inside only to see his left-footed shot blocked with Wilbraham unmarked in support.
City were well on top and twice denied by last-ditch interventions from low crosses with Wilbraham lurking, before Cunningham shot into the side-netting from a rare moment of respite.
For all of City’s possession, Pickford had been relatively untested, but he was forced into another fingertip save from Freeman when the midfielder’s right-footed daisy-cutter threatened to sneak inside the upright, before claiming Marlon Pack’s resulting corner and initiating the last attack of the half.
It was a breakaway that almost brought the opening goal, which would have been very harsh on the visitors, as Garner tried his luck from 25 yards with a dipping shot that crashed against Fielding’s crossbar.
It was a timely reminder of the precarious nature of any goalless game, and set the tone for Preston to come out with renewed fire in their bellies after the interval.
Fielding would be called upon to make his first save of the match when Stevie May picked out Johnson, who looked to place the ball towards the far corner only to be denied by the keeper’s outstretched boot.
It was a top drawer stop, but Fielding was powerless to prevent Kilkenny putting the home team in front with an inch-perfect 30-yard shot that arced beautifully into the top corner.
City were behind again in a game despite enjoying the better of the play, but the response was an encouraging one.
Cotterill’s men worked the ball patiently from left to right, with Freeman and Korey Smith both passing up opportunities to shoot before Wilbraham stung the palms of Pickford at his near post.
Then City old boy Cunningham was left breathing a sigh of relief when Smith’s penalty appeals were ignored after his header clearly struck the Irishman on the hand, albeit from close range and with his arm resting down by his side.
Next to go close was Freeman, who tried his luck from distance with a shot that took a looping deflection only to drop just beyond Pickford’s left-hand post.
Cotterill made his second substitution 20 minutes into the second half, introducing Mark Little for Moore and shifting Luke Ayling inside to offer more attacking thrust.
It nearly had the desired effect soon after, as Smith played the ball into Kodjia, who laid it off for the onrushing Little.
The wing-back’s first touch was faultless to set up the chance, but his firm sidefoot towards the far corner was neither here or there, dragging the shot well wide with Wilbraham awaiting a tap-in.
But the skipper’s moment would come nine minutes from the end, as City worked the ball out to Bryan on the left, whose cross was perfectly delivered for Wilbraham to convert with a bullet header into the roof of the net from eight yards.
City were far from finished. Bryan skied a clear chance over the crossbar on his favoured left foot, before Little charged into the box and squared the ball for fellow substitute Kieran Agard, who must have thought he’d won it only for Pickford to claw the ball out of the top corner.
The best chance was still to come, however, when Bryan stood the ball up invitingly for Freeman, who only had to head the ball on target from four yards to snatch victory but somehow contrived to clear the crossbar.