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Report: Bristol City 1-0 Rotherham United

Substitute Milan Djuric was the hero as the big Bosnian headed his first goal for the club as City’s nine-match winless league run finally came to an end at a relieved Ashton Gate.

The towering centre-forward was one of three second-half replacements simultaneously introduced by head coach Lee Johnson, whose bravery was rewarded when the trio combined for a priceless 73rd-minute winner.

Johnson handed an Ashton Gate homecoming to one of his deadline day signings, as David Cotterill made his second City debut more than 12 years since his first against Colchester United back in October 2004.

The winger replaced Callum O’Dowda and Marlon Pack stepped in for Josh Brownhill, but Matty Taylor would have to be content with a place on the bench.

City started well but only after a lucky escape from the game’s very first attack. When Mark Little was adjudged to have blocked a cross with an arm, Anthony Forde’s free kick was glanced on at the near post and cleared off the line by Tammy Abraham at the far.

No sooner had the 19-goal striker dealt with the danger than he was storming forward, latching on to Lee Tomlin’s ball over the top but failing to pick out the overlapping Joe Bryan.

Cotterill’s first meaningful contribution was to swing in a dangerous free kick headed on by Jens Hegeler to force the first save of the game from returning keeper Richard O’Donnell.

Pack’s presence in midfield was offering more opportunities for Hegeler to express himself and some nifty footwork after a one-two with Abraham almost presented the German with another chance to test O’Donnell.

Abraham was hunting his landmark 20th goal of the campaign and could not expect many better chances than the one that fell his way after 14 minutes, as Bailey Wright’s knockdown prompted the Chelsea loanee to turn on a sixpence only to sidefoot his shot wide from 12 yards.

The bottom-of-the-table Millers were not giving City much to think about defensively but came close for a second time when Joe Newell’s cross from the right was met first time by Danny Ward, who connected sweetly and saw his strike whistle just past the near post.

O’Donnell made saves later in the half from Bryan and Tomlin, but it was no more than catching practice for the Yorkshireman, whose team-mates were beginning to sense vulnerabilities in the City backline.

Midfielder Will Vaulks was allowed to carry the ball a long way before finding Joe Mattock in space on the left corner of the box, but Little had just enough time to get across and make an important block.

Then captain Richard Wood saw his first touch let him down when he stayed forward from a half-cleared corner, before Little’s intervention to cut out a teasing cross from Forde was a little too close for comfort.

Johnson allowed the second period to play out for 13 minutes before calling for the cavalry.

With three substitutes waiting to be introduced, City produced their best piece of football of the match as Bryan’s stepover took him to the byeline where he stood up a delightful cross for Abraham, whose downward header was somehow clawed out by O’Donnell.

But the head coach’s mind was made up and it was to prove Abraham’s last act of the game, as City’s predatory marksman joined Little and Tomlin as the men sacrificed.

On came Jamie Paterson, Djuric and, to rapturous applause, former Bristol Rovers man Taylor, now a City debutant.

Paterson was the first to make an impact, buzzing around in the final third and causing problems with his quick feet.

His lay-off to Hegeler was met by a first-time cross for Djuric to hit on the volley, but the Bosnian’s attempt ran harmlessly towards the Lansdown Stand and out for a throw-in via the corner flag.

Rotherham launched a rare breakaway from which Jon Taylor’s cross flashed across the penalty area, before namesake Matty had his first sniff of a chance in the box, but the ball ran away from him and appeals for a spot-kick fell on deaf ears as the striker went to ground.

The tension inside Ashton Gate was building with every attack that came and went, but an outpouring of relief was just around the corner.

With 17 minutes to go, Paterson worked an angle from Taylor's pass to unleash a vicious 20-yard strike parried by O’Donnell only into the path of Djuric, who gleefully nodded in the rebound for his first City goal on his seventh appearance in English football.

There were opportunities for City to kill the game on the counter, albeit nothing clear-cut, while the hosts’ resilience was put to the test at the other end as Rotherham launched high balls into the box.

With five added minutes to negotiate it was a bumpy ride, but at last City had a victory to celebrate.