City’s unbeaten start under Lee Johnson was ended in style by promotion hopefuls Brighton & Hove Albion, who hit four without reply at Ashton Gate.
Jamie Murphy set the tone with an early goal for the visitors, themselves still smarting from shipping four at Cardiff City over the weekend.
Sam Baldock came back to haunt his former employers with the Seagulls’ second, while Tomer Hemed added a third after the interval before an unfortunate own goal from Mark Little completed the scoring.
A night to forget from a City point of view was made worse when Little’s fellow substitute Kieran Agard slammed a stoppage-time penalty against the crossbar.
Johnson made one enforced change to his starting line-up victorious at MK Dons last time out, with Nathan Baker unable to recover from the Achilles injury that forced him off at half-time.
That meant two home debuts in the City back four; one for Alex Pearce, who replaced Baker at Stadium:MK, and one for Zak Vyner, as the 18-year-old continued at right-back despite Little’s return to the squad following a groin strain.
The home side were on a three-match winning streak and spent a good chunk of the first period on the front foot, only to find themselves trailing as early as the eighth minute to Murphy’s opener.
It was a goal out of nothing, as the winger capitalised on some City indecision to charge through unopposed and find the bottom corner with clinical ease.
The response from Johnson’s men was a good one, forcing Brighton to survive a number of threatening corners.
David Stockdale’s first save would also come via a set-piece – a Lee Tomlin free kick that needed tipping over, while Tomlin would trot across to take another corner after his own goalbound shot deflected behind.
But City’s self-belief would be further tested by a familiar source midway through the half.
Former skipper Baldock, who claimed the League One Golden Boot award in a red shirt two seasons ago, looked menacing as he collected the ball 25 yards from goal, and duly let fly with a low drive that beat Richard O’Donnell down by his right hand.
Baldock was making his first start for over three months and scoring only his third goal of the campaign – two of which have come against his old team-mates.
The striker had been subject to some half-hearted jeers from the home supporters but resisted the urge to celebrate the strike, and later left the field to generous applause.
To state the obvious, Brighton’s second made life much tougher. The Seagulls are a resilient outfit who went 21 league matches unbeaten at the start of the season, so a City revival was going to take some doing.
Still they pushed the visitors back, as more crosses rained down on the Brighton box, but any hopes of a comeback were realistically put to bed when Hemed added his name to the scoresheet 11 minutes after the break.
Beram Kayal’s slide-rule pass left Vyner stretching for a ball he could not reach, allowing the Israeli international to poke beyond the advancing O’Donnell.
City, to their credit, kept plugging away, but their cause was not helped by the form of Stockdale, who saved impressively from Jonathan Kodjia and Marlon Pack.
Lee Tomlin sent a vicious volley flying wide of the post before Dale Stephens got his head to a deep free kick and saw the ball strike Little on its way past the stranded O’Donnell to give the scoreline a more one-sided look than the hosts deserved.
There was still time for City’s rotten luck to be summed up in one more kick of the ball, as Agard picked himself up after being bundled over in the box only to hammer the resulting penalty against the frame of the goal.