City’s perfect start to the new season came to an end at the hands of a much-fancied Norwich City side in East Anglia.
Jonny Howson’s 38th-minute goal was all that could separate two teams who finished 19 places apart on the Football League ladder only three months ago.
Jonathan Kodjia and Aden Flint came closest to finding the net for the visitors, who will still feel they can compete with the best the Sky Bet Championship has to offer.
Lee Johnson made one change to his side victorious at Burton Albion on Saturday, drafting in Marlon Pack to partner former Norwich man Gary O’Neil in midfield, as Josh Brownhill dropped to the bench.
Scoring sensation Tammy Abraham kept his place up front, supported by an attacking trio of Kodjia, Lee Tomlin and Callum O’Dowda.
It was a bright start from Johnson’s fearless young team. Abraham chased down Hordur Magnusson’s ball over the top to win a corner inside the first minute, before O’Dowda headed over from a Mark Little cross.
Steven Naismith fired a shot in anger that flashed wide for the hosts, but City were undeniably the better side.
There were gaps to exploit behind the Canaries’ defence, and Kodjia was causing problems running from a deeper starting position.
O’Neil had to be alert to make a crucial block as Naismith stepped on to an inviting loose ball, before Kodjia tricked his way into a good position down the left side of the box and rifled a shot towards the near post that Michael McGovern tipped on to the upright.
Three minutes later it was McGovern’s opposite number breathing a sigh of relief. Alex Tettey’s fierce 20-yard drive had Richard O’Donnell beaten all ends up, only to crash against his left-hand post and bounce back into play.
Slowly but surely Norwich were putting their own stamp on things, but O’Donnell was only having to deal with shots from distance until Howson put the home team in front seven minutes before the interval.
Robbie Brady’s deep cross was retrieved by Josh Murphy, before Wes Hoolahan teed up Howson to score with a well-placed finish from 15 yards that curled away from the City keeper to find the corner of the net.
It had become noticeable since the midway point in the first half that this represented a significant step up on City’s opening two games against newly-promoted duo Wigan Athletic and Burton.
The visitors were grateful to Flint for an important intervention early in the second period, as the defender slid in front of Cameron Jerome to deny the striker a tap-in from Ivo Pinto’s low cross.
City’s biggest aerial threat then used his height to get on the end of an O’Neil corner with a looping header that only stayed out via a combination of McGovern and his crossbar.
Johnson looked to his bench for the first time just after the hour, introducing Luke Freeman for O’Dowda in a bid to turn the tide. Adam Matthews and Bobby Reid would follow, with Little and Pack the men sacrificed.
City were still very much in the game. Joe Bryan had given another good account of himself at left-back and was a constant outlet on the overlap, but the likes of Tomlin and Abraham needed more of the ball in the final third.
Meanwhile, Norwich wanted a second goal to put the game to bed. Hoolahan was within an inch of providing it 13 minutes from time, but O’Donnell’s fingertips sent his shot against the inside of the far post.
As the keeper turned around more in hope than expectation, his luck was in as the ball bounced straight back into his arms.
O’Donnell then pulled off another brilliant reaction stop to tip over Jerome’s header, only for the striker to be penalised anyway.
Four added minutes were signalled, but City were unable to produce a repeat of their last-ditch heroics against Wigan and Burton.