City’s long wait for a win over their Welsh rivals on Cardiff soil goes on after the Bluebirds upset the form table with victory in the Severnside derby.
Peter Whittingham gave the hosts a first-half lead from the penalty spot before debutant Sol Bamba doubled the lead in front of the Sky TV cameras.
Lee Tomlin lashed in a superb strike to pull one back two minutes later, giving City 21 minutes to rescue a point, but substitute Bobby Reid was off target from close range on the cusp of stoppage time and Cardiff held out.
Lee Johnson made five changes to his side as City went in search of a first-ever victory at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Mark Little recovered from injury to return at right-back, while Tomlin was back from suspension.
Elsewhere, Joe Bryan, Gary O’Neil and Luke Freeman were all recalled as the quintet of Taylor Moore, Scott Golbourne, Josh Brownhill, Callum O’Dowda and Reid dropped to the bench.
New Cardiff boss Neil Warnock, whose presence only served to add to the feisty atmosphere under the lights, handed debuts to three of his four new signings on the occasion of his first match in charge.
In traditional derby fashion, the opening exchanges were fast and furious without either team managing a sustained spell of possession or creating a notable chance.
Both sets of fans grew in optimism when awarded throw-ins in opposition territory, as Icelandic internationals Hordur Magnusson and Aron Gunnarsson engaged in their own game of long-throw tennis.
City had the first nearly moment, as Marlon Pack’s first-time pass sent Tomlin surging into the box and ultimately flat on his face as defenders converged, but referee James Linington was not interested in visiting appeals for a penalty.
By the 20-minute mark Johnson’s men had established a level of control. Freeman shot wide from the edge of the area, while long spells of possession suggested Cardiff’s early pressing game was already starting to wilt.
But it was via the more direct route that the hosts were able to edge in front after 25 minutes.
Right-winger Craig Noone had wandered towards the opposite flank and raced away from the City defence to receive the ball in the left channel.
The Cardiff man was actually offside in doing so, and rode his luck again when his attempted stepover turned into an unintentional nutmeg that lured Bryan into a trip, prompting Linington to point to the spot.
Up stepped Whittingham to bring some calmness to the mayhem and send Frank Fielding the wrong way from 12 yards.
In fairness to City, the opener did not derail their momentum. The dominance of possession quickly resumed, yet Ben Amos remained frustratingly untroubled in the Cardiff goal.
After the interval, Jamie Paterson had a rare opportunity to get in behind the home defence but could not pick out Abraham from the byeline.
It would prove his last contribution as Aaron Wilbraham and Reid were introduced for Paterson and Pack with 35 minutes still to play.
City were the team in the ascendancy but would come unstuck from a set-piece midway through the second half, as Rickie Lambert met a left-wing corner with a header brilliantly tipped on to the bar by Fielding, who was powerless to prevent Bamba bundling the rebound into the net from point-blank range.
Just as the 2,000-plus travelling contingent must have been fearing the worst, Tomlin turned on the style to halve the deficit with a goal out of nothing.
Picking up possession 25 yards from goal near the right corner of the box, the maverick frontman shifted the ball on to his right foot and unleashed a powerful drive that caught out Amos at his near post. Game on.
No team in the Sky Bet Championship has picked up more points from losing positions than City this season, which, combined with Cardiff’s wretched run of six defeats from their last seven, pointed to a nervy finale for the natives.
With ten minutes to go Abraham’s race was run, replaced by O’Dowda, fresh from making his competitive international debut for Republic of Ireland in midweek.
But City spurned a golden chance to level things up just as the fourth official indicated seven added minutes, as Bryan’s enticing low cross bounced in front of Reid, who contrived to lift the ball over the crossbar from no more than a couple of yards.
Freeman flashed a 20-yard drive wide with Amos beaten, but it was the previous chance that will haunt Johnson and co.