THERE were only 27 seconds of normal time left when valiant Town suffered a final kick in the teeth.
Luke Wilkshire's speculative shot of desperation would not have troubled Ian Gray, but the ball ballooned off David Mirfin as he attempted to block and flew straight into the top lefthand corner of Town's net.
It was a sickening blow for manager Peter Jackson and his side and earned City a point they could hardly have expected when trailing 3-1 with 10 minutes left on the clock.
I say final kick in the teeth because Town did suffer another, in the 80th minute, when Berkshire referee Iain Williamson gifted City the sort of penalty teams can only dream about when they are struggling to get back into a match.
There was barely a brush of shirts between Nat Brown and City striker Leroy Lita as he turned away from goal near the edge of the box.
In fact, Brown did more than enough to try and avoid any contact at all, but the official pointed to the spot and City had the lifeline which brought at least some of their departing fans back to their seats.
Lita - who had missed from the spot in midweek against Everton - gave Gray no chance at all with a fierce right-foot drive into the bottom righthand corner to set up the chance for Wilkshire's late equaliser.
Had the wingman had such luck in the Athens Olympics, then Australia would have been going home with gold.
Mirfin - who was magnificent all game - could only lay on the rain-soaked turf in agony as he realised Town's terrific efforts would count for nothing more than a point.
They were desperately unlucky, although Jackson acknowledged that if you're going to score three goals away from home, you really ought to win.
While the eventual outcome felt like a defeat, there was plenty of encouragement in a bristling performance to suggest Town can be among the League I play-off challengers.
They will need to tighten up at the back, obviously, but the quality of their attacking play on a tricky surface matched anything they produced against Hull City and Port Vale.
Town's showing at Ashton Gate, in fact, made events against Barnsley even more baffling - because there was belief to bounce back from Scott Murray's eighth-minute City opener and all the enterprise which Jackson had called for from his key midfield duo of Chris Brandon and Danny Schofield.
It took a little while for Nathan Clarke to bed in as replacement for the suspended Efe Sodje, but once he'd settled after a few early scares and the Murray goal, he got better by the minute alongside the excellent Mirfin and Steve Yates.
A sweeping length-of-the-pitch move involving six players would have led to a Schofield opener on 20 minutes had it not been for the fingertips of keeper Steve Phillips and the help of a post, but Schofield was not to be denied with an angled drive on 28, after Pawel Abbott had crossed and Brandon had been blocked.
It signalled a spell of complete control for Town, whose passing left City chasing shadows, and Jon Worthington was inches wide with a 25-yard drive before he fired Town ahead in the 35th minute.
Andy Booth and the overlapping substitute Brown - who went on for shoulder-injury victim Andy Holdsworth after only 18 minutes - created the chance, but Abbott's turn and shot were excellent and precise.
City responded after the break by forcing a string of corners and with manager Brian Tinnion going on with striker Paul Heffernan to try and force an opening, but it was Town who struck on the break.
Schofield provided the through ball for Abbott, who looked to be offside, but the flag stayed down and when his shot was parried by Phillips, Brandon was on hand to bag his second of the season.
Substitute Akpo Sodje had a couple of breakaway chances to extend the lead at a stage when Town were perhaps starting to defend too deep, and a brilliant save by Gray from Murray's back-post header suggested it was still going to be the visitors' day.
Fate had other cruel ideas, however.
Next: Man of the Match >>>
MAN OF THE MATCH: David Mirfin
Strong, positive and commanding. A sliding tackle to block Tinnion was the highlight and he could do nothing about City's equaliser, despite it being given as an own goal in some quarters!
HOW THEY RATED:
Ian Gray Slipped before the first goal after starting late from his line. Brilliant late save to deny a bullet Murray header Rating: 7/10
Andy Holdsworth Made a promising start but was hurt when launching himself to meet a cross and eventually had to leave the field Rating: 6/10
Anthony Lloyd Back in the side and a big attacking influence at times. Made a couple of great clearances amid City's late effort Rating: 7/10
Steve Yates Did a fine job to shackle Roberts and made a number of tremendous clearances towards the end in a fierce battle Rating: 8/10
Nathan Clarke A couple of early scares but got better and more confident by the minute. Outstanding blocks and clearances late on Rating: 8/10
David Mirfin Fantastic performance and desperately unlucky to deflect the shot which earned City a final-minute point Rating: 9/10
Chris Brandon Another goal and one which looked like sealing the points. He linked well, causing City plenty of headaches Rating: 8/10
Jon Worthington Influential anchorman in front of the defence. He earned a fifth booking of the season for protesting against the penalty Rating: 8/10
Danny Schofield Involved in all three goals and back to his best form. Also saw one shot tipped onto a post. Terrific contribution Rating: 8/10
Andy Booth Skippered the side in the absence of Efe Sodje and Rob Edwards and worked hard before injury Rating: 7/10
Pawel Abbott Took his tally for the season to six and gave another impressive display with his skilful touches on the ball Rating: 8/10
How the ref rated: IAIN WILLIAMSON got about the pitch well and let the game flow on a slippery surface, but he was the only person in the ground who thought Nat Brown's challenge on Leroy Lita was deserving of a penalty.
Booked Worthington for back chat after the penalty and also penalised Town 10 yards after Steve Yates was booked for booting the ball away in frustration after a something-and-nothing challenge on Roberts. Got Bradley Orr's booking wrong for City, too. He got the ball before clattering into Chris Brandon near the touchline in the 35th minute.
Bristol City: Phillips, Smith (Miller 84), Coles, Butler, Hill, Murray, Doherty, Orr (Tinnion 52), Wilkshire, Roberts (Heffernan 52), Lita.
Subs not used: Fortune, Amankwaah