A former transfer target of Steve Cotterill now on the books of one of the manager’s former clubs was the star of the show as Burnley inflicted a heavy defeat on City in Lancashire.
The boss’ pursuit of Andre Gray was well publicised over the summer, but it was the Clarets who secured his signature and reaped the rewards as the striker bagged a hat-trick at Turf Moor.
The prolific marksman scored twice in the closing stages of the first half and added his third shortly after Scott Arfield had written his name on the scoresheet.
Cotterill made one change for the trip to his former employers, restoring Derrick Williams to his starting line-up at the expense of Joe Bryan.
The promotion-chasing hosts had won only one of their last eight games but started brightly, with Luke Ayling having to do some important covering to stop Joey Barton from connecting with Sam Vokes’ knockdown.
Then Elliott Bennett needed to be well positioned to clear away further danger when Gray fired a low ball across goal, before Scott Arfield dragged a good chance wide from Gray’s lay-off.
City’s desire to bring the ex-Brentford striker to BS3 was well documented and he was proving a handful from the start.
The Clarets came even closer to breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes, as Gray latched on to Vokes’ through ball and went for goal on his left foot with a low shot that struck the sliding Nathan Baker and cannoned against the post en route to safety.
There was something refreshingly old-fashioned about Burnley’s approach; an orthodox 4-4-2 formation with a big striker partnered by a nippy runner flanked by two wingers intent on providing crosses at every opportunity.
Aden Flint had to stretch every inch of his 6ft 5in frame to clear one devilish delivery from the right by Arfield as Burnley continued to probe.
Meanwhile, the two central midfielders, David Jones and Barton, would generally sit fairly deep but the latter, once capped by England, freed himself from the shackles to let fly from 35 yards with a thunderbolt of a shot that crashed against the top of the crossbar with Frank Fielding beaten.
City as an attacking force had been restricted to shots from a similar distance and were yet to test former Ashton Gate stopper Tom Heaton.
But having weathered an early storm, the visitors seemed comfortable enough in the contest only for Gray to turn on the style eight minutes before the interval.
Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the halfway line, the striker spun away from Flint in one slick movement and motored towards the box, stepping inside the covering Baker and curling the ball expertly beyond Fielding’s despairing left hand.
City’s best moment of the half would follow shortly after when Luke Freeman picked out Williams with a well-flighted diagonal ball headed across goal by the Irishman, but Heaton was quick to pounce with Jonathan Kodjia lurking in the six-yard box.
But Gray would double his tally for the day with his third goal against Cotterill’s men this season just in the nick of time.
Matthew Lowton’s cross did not look the most dangerous but was not properly cleared by the City backline, allowing Jones to help the ball back into Gray’s path, who turned sharply to score with a straightforward poacher’s finish from ten yards.
In fairness to City, the second-half response was encouraging, although Burnley seemed content to soak up pressure.
Korey Smith saw a goalbound effort blocked before the ball dropped to Flint in unfamiliar territory 16 yards out, trying his luck on the half-volley but unable to keep his shot down.
Williams also came close, on two occasions, having one shot blocked at close quarters and nodding wide from Marlon Pack’s corner.
Heaton was finally called upon to make a save at the end of City’s best spell in the match but from a chance that should have been taken, as Kodjia ran at the home defence and drew defenders towards him only to shoot straight at the keeper with Freeman wide open to his right.
It was an opportunity to grab a lifeline in the game not taken, and City would soon be paying the price as Burnley disappeared out of sight with two further goals in the space of eight minutes.
First Arfield raced clear to take Vokes’ pass in his stride and slot past Fielding, before Gray inflicted the ultimate insult with his hat-trick goal 12 minutes from time.
This time Barton started the move in midfield, threading a neat pass down the line for Lowton, who crossed from the byeline for Gray to sweep in his side’s fourth and secure the matchball.
City had shipped four goals in a game for the fifth time since returning to the Sky Bet Championship, casting further regrets over the dominant display against Charlton Athletic two days prior that only yielded a solitary point.
There was still time for substitute Wes Burns to see his chip over Heaton cleared off the line before Wilbraham headed against the post late on, but the damage was long since done.