City’s best EFL Cup run for 27 seasons came to an end at the hands of Premier League opposition as Hull City scored twice in quick succession either side of half-time at Ashton Gate.
City were more than a match for last season’s Sky Bet Championship play-off winners, but came a cropper from two corners as Harry Maguire and Michael Dawson helped themselves to rare goals as the Tigers’ wealth of experience eventually saw them through, despite Lee Tomlin’s late consolation.
Lee Johnson continued his trend of mixing things up in the EFL Cup, making a total of nine changes to his side.
Only Aden Flint and Scott Golbourne survived from the team that started Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, with Frank Fielding, Hordur Magnusson, Tammy Abraham and Tomlin among those rested.
Richard O’Donnell started in goal, while Gustav Engvall made his home debut following his summer move from IFK Gothenburg, having only previously featured in a City shirt in the third round win at Fulham.
Visitors Hull made six changes of their own after dropping into the Premier League relegation zone over the weekend, including a recall for Abel Hernandez.
The Uruguayan striker starred in the Tigers’ promotion season last term, scoring 22 goals and claiming the club’s Player of the Year award.
It was he who fired the first warning shot, dragging a low right-footer wide from 18 yards that had O’Donnell scrambling to his right unable to reach it.
Engvall, meanwhile, was showing some positive signs – heading over from Callum O’Dowda’s cross before smartly rolling his man only to scuff his shot into the turf.
But in Hernandez Hull had a man with a proven strike rate against Championship opposition.
More comfortable on his left side, there was no questioning the trueness of his strike when he took aim from 30 yards with a dipping effort that crashed against O’Donnell’s crossbar.
Having avoided an early setback, City began to grow in confidence. O’Dowda cut inside on his left foot and saw a shot blocked by former England defender Dawson, before Engvall went alone from a promising counter-attack and tried his luck from distance.
When the Swede’s shot was deflected behind for a corner, the ball fell kindly for Bobby Reid, whose first chance cannoned against a defender before his second – hit with far more conviction – whistled only fractionally over the bar.
When City’s momentum stalled, the first half seemed destined to peter out until Hull struck first just a minute before the interval.
After Aaron Wilbraham headed behind Ryan Mason’s initial corner at the near post, the Tigers’ club record signing swung in a deeper delivery that Maguire met from almost point-blank range to nod home the opener.
It was the defender’s first goal for the club after more than two years on Hull’s books.
Having conceded from a set-piece in the dying embers of the first half, the second was only just up and running when City were guilty of the same offence.
Again Mason provided the assist from a corner, this time crossing with a flat trajectory that Dawson powered into the net with minimal fuss from rather further out than his defensive partner.
Hull came close to putting the tie to bed when Hernandez spotted Adama Diomande running through on goal, but the Norwegian pulled his shot beyond the far post.
In fairness to City, they recovered well. Marlon Pack was narrowly off target twice in quick succession – a free kick that sailed over and a low placed shot that just did not curl enough to find the bottom corner.
Then Reid wanted a penalty when he outfoxed a black shirt and appeared to be obstructed, but referee Keith Stroud was not about to appease the screaming City fans in the South Stand.
The locals found their voices again when Johnson invited his game changers to join the party on the hour. Wilbraham and Joe Bryan off, Tomlin and Abraham on.
Tomlin immediately jinked his hips to raise another roar, only for goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to snuff out Engvall’s cross from the byeline, before Abraham forced a corner.
With the crowd firmly behind them, City were worrying their top-flight visitors. Golbourne connected sweetly with a low drive that landed perfectly at the feet of O’Dowda, who looked set to celebrate his first goal since his summer arrival only to be thwarted by the imposing figure of Jakupovic.
Then Tomlin’s disguised pass to Reid led to the Bristolian finding Abraham, whose side-footed shot towards the far corner rolled just past the post.
City looked a threat but now had only 15 minutes to save themselves. Tomlin delivered a corner missed by Engvall and Aden Flint at the near post before Jakupovic punched unconvincingly.
It was do or die stuff. As 19-year-old striker Shawn McCoulsky prepared to come on for his City debut, Taylor Moore was called upon to make an important goal-line clearance as Hernandez rounded O’Donnell.
City were running out of time and when Tomlin danced though the Hull defence with only Jakupovic to beat, you felt he had to score. When he shot with power but too close to the keeper, any realistic hope of City progressing into the quarter-finals was extinguished.
When Tomlin again proved to be City’s spark in the third minute of added time, his deflected shot at the end of an impressive solo run to finally beat Jakupovic left the hosts with seconds left to save themselves.
Two late corners saw O’Donnell join a sea of bodies inside the Hull box, but Abraham’s flick from the second of those was cleared off the line and the Tigers escaped.