A red card for Nathan Baker four minutes into the second half tipped the balance of a tight game in favour of Blackburn Rovers as City slipped to a second successive defeat.
Grant Hanley stabbed home from close range just shy of the hour mark to leave Steve Cotterill’s men with a mountain to climb, before Ben Marshall’s penalty five minutes from time put the result beyond doubt.
The City manager was forced into one change from his side who suffered a setback at Rotherham United last time out, drafting in Bobby Reid for the suspended Marlon Pack, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season at New York Stadium.
It would prove a nip and tuck first period, frantic in places but lacking clear chances at both ends.
Cotterill admitted before the game that set-pieces could prove a problem for his side, who were missing the height of Pack and Aaron Wilbraham from the start.
After Korey Smith hacked down Craig Conway, Jordan Rhodes got his head to the resulting free kick but cleared the crossbar.
Then Baker went right through the back of Tom Lawrence on the touchline. It was an easy decision to book the defender for referee Geoff Eltringham, but further underlined City’s committed approach.
This time the ensuing delivery was dealt with and City counter-attacked at pace through Kieran Agard, who found Reid to his left.
There was not much on for the midfielder, but he stepped inside and sent a menacing shot that was curling inside the far post before Jason Steele smothered it with a stooping save.
City were growing in confidence and some neat passing between the lines threatened to open up the Blackburn defence on 27 minutes.
This time Aden Flint got the ball rolling by finding Smith on the turn in midfield, who played it to Reid with space in front of him. Reid slipped it down the right to Elliott Bennett, who was only denied by a crucial last-ditch block from Hanley.
Baker was walking a tightrope when he sent Rhodes crashing to earth soon after, leaving Blackburn’s players surrounding the referee to no avail as the defender avoided a second yellow card.
That was a lucky escape for the hosts and another one followed when Agard sold Frank Fielding woefully short, allowing Shane Duffy a clear route to goal only for the City keeper to bail out his team-mate with a crucial save, before Hope Akpan’s follow-up from distance was cleared off the line by Luke Ayling with Fielding still out of his goal.
It was City left feeling aggrieved by an Eltringham decision eight minutes before the interval when Bennett stood the ball up towards Agard at the far post, who seemed to be impeded by Adam Henley, but no penalty was forthcoming before Reid blazed a shot over the bar when play continued.
City had certainly held their own in a tight game but Baker’s luck would run out four minutes into the second half.
His foul on Lawrence looked innocuous enough, but the Aston Villa loanee was presumably already on his final warning and forced to take the long walk from the South Stand end of Ashton Gate to the tunnel.
Cotterill duly switched to a 4-4-1 formation with Liam Moore replacing Agard to partner Flint at centre-back flanked by Ayling and Derrick Williams, with Bennett and Luke Freeman on the wings.
But City’s resistance would not last long, as Hanley pounced from close range when Conway’s deep cross was kept alive by Rhodes at the far post.
The next move from the City boss was to revert to wing-backs, sacrificing Freeman for Wilbraham as his team changed to 3-4-2 for the remaining 25 minutes.
Lawrence then picked up a booking before shoving Smith in front of the referee, leading to calls for a second yellow that never materialised.
But the sense of injustice boiling inside Ashton Gate roused a sold-out home crowd into life and City poured forward.
Flint jumped with Steele before the ball ran loose to Bennett, whose cross was steered wide by the big defender, but it was an encouraging response nonetheless.
Jonathan Kodjia combined with strike partner Wilbraham to create another opening ten minutes from time, as Williams leapt for the first ball before Bennett struck the second against a Rovers defender.
Joe Bryan entered the fray for the final six minutes in place of Williams in Cotterill’s final throw of the dice, but Flint was penalised for allegedly bringing down Markus Olsson and Marshall sent Blackburn-born Fielding the wrong way from the spot to wrap up the points.