BRISTOL CITY 1, CARDIFF CITY 2
Unfortunate Kalifa Cisse proved the fall guy as Cardiff grabbed a dramatic late goal to win a pulsating Severnside derby encounter in front of the TV cameras at Ashton Gate.
City looked set to earn a crucial point in their fight against relegation after all-action striker Jon Stead grabbed a deserved 55th minute equaliser to cancel out Joe Mason's first-half opener.
But Cardiff had the last laugh when Cisse turned Joe Mason's 87th minute shot into his own net to send the Bluebirds back into the Championship play-off positions.
These Anglo-Welsh rivals were both urgently in need of the points, but for very different reasons. Cardiff began the day two points outside the play-off places, while the Robins were just one position and four points clear of the relegation zone.
Despite the disparity in league position, it was the home side who looked the more likely to score early on and City were incensed when referee Michael Oliver dismissed what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate appeal for a penalty when Bluebirds centre-back Mark Hudson handled the ball under pressure from Jon Stead.
Recalled to City's starting line-up for the first time since January 14, left winger Martyn Woolford was causing Cardiff problems and Hudson made a crucial intervention to cut out a centre intended for the in-rushing Stead.
Up against determined opponents who refused to give an inch, Cardiff were effectively kept at arm's length and their only chance of note in the opening half hour fell to veteran Scottish forward Kenny Miller, whose long-range effort was dealt with comfortably by former England number one David James.
But Miller was warming to his task and when he seized upon Don Cowie's cross and tricked his way past Jamie McAllister moments later, James was called upon to make a smart save at his near post.
David Marshall made an equally impressive save at the other end shortly before half time, demonstrating strong wrists to keep out Brett Pitman's stinging shot on the turn from the edge of the 18 yard box.
It came as something of a surprise when the visitors took the lead against the run of play in time added on at the end of the first half.
Mason made the most of space on the right side of City's penalty area to drill a low centre across the face of goal and the ball took the slightest of deflections off defender Stephen McManus to beat James and end up in the bottom corner. However, that did not prevent Mason from claiming his ninth goal of the season.
City keeper James emerged for the second half wearing the captain's armband in honour of his 900th club appearance and was immediately called upon to keep his side in the game, diving full-length to save Miller's powerful drive.
He did even better when twice denying Aron Gunnarsson, once from range and then from close in, as Cardiff turned up the heat on their Severnside rivals.
Under sustained pressure for the first time, the Robins responded in positive fashion to even things up in the 55th minute. Richard Foster stole in behind Cardiff left-back Andrew Taylor and looked up before cutting the ball back to Stead, who smashed in his third goal in four games from 12 yards out.
Seeking to seize the initiative, City boss Derek McInnes introduced flying winger Albert Adomah and experienced midfielder Sean Davis from the bench. Cardiff certainly found Adomah's pace difficult to handle and the Ghana star threatened a complete turnaround in fortunes when cutting in and unleashing a sweetly-struck drive that flew just over the cross bar.
On loan from Premier League strugglers Bolton Wanderers, Davis almost got in on the act moments later, testing Marshall with a powerful drive from distance that forced the keeper to scramble the ball to safety.
Forced onto the back foot, Cardiff broke away and nearly grabbed a winner eight minutes from time, Miller being denied a clear shot at goal only by a superb last-minute intervention from McManus.
Pitman had two opportunities to win in for City late on, only for Marshall to save his shot from close range and then look on as another angled effort flew into the side netting.
Bristol City (4-4-2): James; Carey (Adomah 58), Fontaine, McManus, McAllister (Bolasie 88); Foster, Cisse, Pearson, Woolford (Davis 63); Pitman, Stead.
Cardiff City (4-4-1-1): Marshall; McNaughton (Blake 90), Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Cowie, Lawrence (Vuckic 80) Gunnarsson, Mason; Whittingham; Miller (Kiss 90).