City were on the receiving end of a late sickener at Molineux as Matt Doherty headed a dramatic winner for Wolves in stoppage time.
The visitors looked good value for a point, seemingly safe in their back pockets after Aden Flint slid in to cancel out Nathan Byrne’s opener with only 13 minutes left.
But defender Doherty was Wolves’ unlikely hero as he climbed highest at the back post to secure a last-gasp victory for the hosts.
Lee Johnson handed a debut to new loan signing Adam Matthews at right-back, meaning Mark Little would have to be content with a place on the bench against his former club.
Perhaps a bigger surprise on the teamsheet was the presence of City’s number 11, as Scott Wagstaff made his first start in league action since December 2014 – also the day of his last goal for the club in a 3-1 victory at Gillingham.
Wolves had been struggling of late, winning only one of their last eight games, but it was the home team who enjoyed the first sights of goal.
First Jeremy Helan narrowly cleared Richard O’Donnell’s crossbar with a 25-yard free kick, before the City keeper had a scare inflicted by a former Ashton Gate loanee.
George Saville made eight appearances in last season’s double-winning campaign on loan from Wolves, scoring one goal, and threatened to do so for his parent club with a low shot from distance that bounced up in front of O’Donnell, who could not hold it but redeemed himself by nudging the loose ball away from Joe Mason as the striker closed in.
City’s first notable contribution as an attacking force arrived on 20 minutes. Luke Freeman ran at the Wolves back four and played in Lee Tomlin to his left, who shot hard and low towards the far corner only for Carl Ikeme to make an impressive stop before Jonathan Kodjia was beaten to the rebound.
Johnson’s men were growing in confidence, summed up by a dipping effort from skipper Marlon Pack that only sailed narrowly wide from a long way out with Ikeme no more than a spectator.
Meanwhile, Scott Golbourne, with 92 appearances and a record-breaking promotion to show for his time in the Black Country, was enjoying his first return to Molineux.
Twice the Bristolian left-back reached inviting positions down on the byeline, but City were just missing the killer ball needed to unlock a home side who looked there for the taking.
It was not a game being played at any great tempo but the visitors were the more inventive team going forward.
Tomlin found a gap most players would never have even seen to slide a brilliant pass through the defence to pick out Kodjia, who needed to run away from goal to reach it before dragging a left-footed shot from a tricky angle just beyond the far post.
Wolves were subjected to boos as they trudged off at the end of a goalless first half, prompting head coach Kenny Jackett to take immediate action.
On came Michael Zyro for Kevin McDonald. Two minutes later, the hosts were in front.
Replacement Zyro was involved in the build-up but it was Doherty who was the architect, carrying the ball along the byeline and squaring it for Byrne to bundle home at the back post.
Suddenly Wolves had their tails up and again attacked with purpose down the left, this time Zyro crossing low and Golbourne temporarily losing his bearings as his clearance flew only inches wide.
But by the hour mark City had regained their composure and would really start to take the game to a nervous home team.
Kodjia timed his run well to the near post to connect with Joe Bryan’s low cross, only for Wolves captain Danny Batth to make a crucial block.
Bryan, Freeman and Tomlin all tried their luck from range as City upped the ante, but none of them could test Ikeme.
Johnson made all three of his changes in the space of four minutes, as Aaron Wilbraham, Kieran Agard and Little replaced Kodjia, Wagstaff and Matthews respectively.
Wolves had posed the occasional counter-attacking threat but were predominantly hanging on to a brittle lead that was finally cancelled out by Flint’s fourth goal in six games.
The defender will be quick to thank the service of Bryan, again functioning in a central role but putting his experience on the wing to good use as he whipped in a superb cross that allowed Flint to sneak in front of his man and score on the stretch with a toe poke that crept inside the far corner.
It was a goal that sprung the hosts into action, as Connor Hunte charged into the box only to see his shot blocked by Flint, who now tops the City scoring charts since Johnson’s arrival as head coach.
But the visitors were undone in the dying seconds from a set-piece, as Doherty beat O’Donnell to Helan’s deep free kick to head a vital winner.