Che Adams came off the bench to grab a late Blues winner to cap a pulsating afternoon of action at St. Andrew’s.
Fellow substitute Greg Stewart did his bit too – his corner led to the game’s decisive moment. Adams crashed the ball into the net from close range to the send the fans behind the Tilton Road goal into delirium and move his side up to fifth in the Championship table.
How the game remained goalless until the 81st minute was something of a mystery as Gary Rowett’s side created a host of opportunities. But, in fairness, Bristol City more than played their part in an end-to-end encounter and the fact that Tomasz Kuszczak won the man-of-the-match accolade shows that Lee Johnson’s men had their chances also.
The only blot on a terrific day for Blues was the late dismissal of Jonathan Spector, who will now miss the next three games after his late tackle on Lee Tomlin was deemed worthy of a straight red card by the referee.
Rowett named an unchanged side for the visit of the fellow promotion-contending Robins, with the only difference on the bench being the inclusion of youngster Reece Brown in place of Diego Fabbrini, who picked up a knock in training.
A minute’s silence was impeccably observed ahead of kick-off, as part of the Club’s Remembrance Day commemorations, and then the action got underway with, as is usually the case, Blues attacking the Gil Merrick Stand in the first period.
Visiting captain Gary O’Neil was first to get a shot away but his bobbling effort never looked like seriously troubling Tomasz Kuszczak. But Blues were soon into their stride and produced a succession of good chances with some excellent build-up play and sharp passing.
The hosts were only a matter of inches away from taking an 11th minute lead following a breakaway attack led by Maikel Kieftenbeld. The Dutchman advanced over the halfway line before producing a delightful defence-splitting pass to Clayton Donaldson on the right side of the area. The striker cut inside before unleashing a low shot that crashed back off the inside of the post. That wasn’t the end of the attack though as the ball rebounded to Lukas Jutkiewicz who saw his effort blocked.
The home side threatened again moments later, this time Cotterill letting fly with a swerving drive that Frank Fielding could only parry away. David Davis followed up with a half-volley that was also kept out by a resolute Robins backline.
An exciting opening then saw the visitors bring the first notable save from Kuszczak, who stood up tall to palm Tammy Abraham’s fierce close-range header over the bar. The action swung back to the other end and Davis got in a measured side-footed effort that flashed only a yard or so wide.
Davis then turned provider with a clever lay-off to Jutkiewicz, but Fielding was quickly off his line to smother the striker’s shot. With the goalkeeper well out of position, the ball rebounded to Kieftenbeld just inside the area. Once again Lee Johnson’s side had got a host of covering defenders back and they were able to hack the midfielder’s goal-bound shot clear.
After a brief lull in goalmouth action, Blues carved out another opportunity on 33 minutes. Some more neat interplay between Donaldson and Cotterill ended with the latter delivering a dangerous out-swinging cross. Jutkiewicz rose high but under pressure from his marker he was unable to direct his header on target.
Fielding was called into action again when Kieftenbeld got in an instinctive shot from just on the edge of the area but the City custodian was equal to it.
The visitors started the second-half with more attacking intent and, on 49 minutes, Marlon Park stung the fingertips of Kuszczak with a fizzing 25-yard drive, after being teed up by the lively Abraham. The Blues keeper flung himself to his right to guard his goal well.
The Pole was called into action again from a Tomlin free-kick, after Ryan Shotton was adjudged to have made an illegal tackle despite taking the ball with a sliding challenge. Blues weren’t unduly punished though as Kuszczak calmly fielded the resultant set-piece.
The brief Bristol pressure sparked Blues back into life and Rowett’s side created two more great chances in the space of a couple of minutes. They both fell to Jutkiewicz, first with a shot from Cotterill’s pull-back that was blocked by Aden Flint on the goalline. Then it was goalkeeper Fielding that came to his side’s rescue to keep out the striker’s close-range header.
At the opposite end, Shotton threw himself in front of Jamie Paterson’s shot, who was only 10 yards out on the right. The defender’s bravery proved crucial as the winger’s effort deflected off his back which took the ball over the bar.
The end-to-end nature of the contest continued as Bobby Reid threatened inside the Blues area, his shot turned aside by Kuszczak. It was then Spector’s turn to show the same thou-shalt-not-score spirit that was evident amongst the Blues defence all afternoon, the American sliding across to divert Joe Bryan’s goal-bound shot.
Rowett decided to shuffle his troops on 69 minutes, Gleeson and Donaldson making way for Jacques Maghoma and Che Adams. The former was involved in another promising attack which saw Cotterill released inside the area on the left but the winger chose to shoot with his right rather than cross with his left and the keeper comfortably held his effort.
Blues were indebted to Kuszczak for another terrific fingertip save from another Tomlin free-kick, awarded after the same player had been tripped by Michael Morrison. Tomlin’s shot would have been heading in before the keeper’s intervention took the ball onto the crossbar and Shotton rose highest to head the rebound away.
Rowett made his final change with the introduction of Greg Stewart and within seconds the Scot made a key contribution. He delivered a corner from the right that was flicked on by Morrison and Adams fired the ball home from just a couple of yards out. It was a goal that was certainly warranted on the number of chances Blues had created.
That was the cue for the Robins to lay siege on the Blues goal in search of an equaliser and three opportunities went begging. Bobby Reid miscued his volley wide, Aden Flint’s close-range header from a corner went over and then Abraham couldn’t direct his first-time shot on target from Reid’s fizzing cross.
Home nerves were frayed just a little more when Spector was shown a straight red card for a late foul on Tomllin. But the 10 men stood firm and it was Blues who came closest to scoring in stoppage-time from a breakaway attack that ended with Adams firing into the side-netting.
Blues saw out the four minutes of added time to record a fantastic, hard-fought and ultimately deserved victory over one of their main rivals for a top-six berth.