FULL-TIME: Millwall 2, Bristol City 1
Jon Stead's first goal since August was not enough to save Bristol City from defeat against play-off hopefuls Millwall at the New Den.
Determined to expunge memories of a difficult 12 months and climb the Championship table in 2013, the Robins looked to have salvaged a precious point when coming from behind in south London.
Simply awful during a first-half which saw them trail to Dany N'Guessan's first goal of the campaign, City staged a stirring comeback after the break and Stead struck on 64 minutes to restore parity.
But a porous defence that has yet to keep a clean sheet all season gave way 15 minutes from time, Lions right-back Adam Smith smashing home the winner to leave City languishing in the bottom three.
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Millwall may have dropped out of the play-off places after winning just one of their last six outings, but they still posed a threat to City's prospects of staging a three-match unbeaten run for the first time this season.
A regular scorer against the Robins, recalled striker Darius Henderson threatened to give the Lions an early lead, stooping to meet Liam Feeney's left-wing cross with a header that flew inches wide of Tom Heaton's goal.
Sensing an opportunity to take three points against one of the relegation strugglers, the Londoners were the more purposeful of the two sides and Robins defenders Matthew Bates and Liam Fontaine were both forced into last-ditch clearances as wingers James Henry and Feeney delivered a series of telling centres.
Heaton was called into meaningful action when going full-length to tip away an angled drive from Liam Trotter as the Lions continued to ask questions of the visitors.
City's hopes of keeping a first clean sheet of the season were dashed in the 19th minute as they failed to deal with a straight ball played down the middle of the pitch. Bates hesitated just a fraction, allowing Dany N'Guessan to steal a march on him, and the former Leicester forward beat Heaton with a low shot from 16 yards which found the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Physically stronger all over the park, Millwall were able to deal comfortably with long balls played in the direction of lone striker Jon Stead and City did not muster a single shot on target during a first half which saw them on the back foot for the most part.
The home side almost extended their lead shortly before the break, centre-back Mark Beevers heading just wide from a Henry corner.
Robins manager Derek McInnes needed to make changes and did not wait for half-time, withdrawing Fontaine and Paul Anderson and sending on winger Martyn Woolford and striker Sam Baldock a minute before the break.
Switching to 4-4-2 finally gave City a foothold in the game and they conjured their first goal-scoring opportunity in the 49th minute, Stead setting up Neil Danns for a fierce drive that required Lions keeper David Forde to turn the ball behind.
Baldock's pace and movement off the ball served to stretch Millwall for the first time and the striker tested Forde with a low drive that had to be tipped away, while fellow newcomer Woolford sent another effort from range narrowly wide.
Concerted proof of a change in the balance of power arrived on 64 minutes, Albert Adomah lofting the ball over a flat-footed Millwall defence for Stead to rifle a first-time shot beyond Forde and into the left-hand corner of the net to level matters.
At that point, rejuvenated City looked the more likely winners and they threatened to go ahead when Danns surged through a phalanx of blue-shirted defenders only to stumble at the crucial moment.
But conceding a goal had clearly galvanised the home side and Heaton was called upon to make finger-tip saves to keep out powerful shots from Trotter and Adam Smith.
City were back on terms for just 11 minutes. Henry's deep free kick was headed back across goal by Trotter and Smith came steaming in the smash the loose ball past Heaton from 10 yards out and restore Millwall's lead.
An increasingly influential figure in the centre of midfield, Trotter unleashed a thunderous half volley to force a stunning diving save from Heaton as the Lions sought to put the outcome beyond doubt.
There could have been a sting in the tail right at the death, Forde spilling a shot from Adomah and recovering just in time to prevent the predatory Baldock from poaching an equaliser.
Millwall (4-4-2): Forde; A Smith, Shittu, Beevers, Lowry; Henry, Abdou, Trotter, Feeney; N'Guessan (Batt 90), Henderson (J Smith 83).
City (5-4-1): Heaton; M Wilson (Taylor 88), Bates, McManus, Fontaine (Baldock 45 mins), Cunningham; Adomah, Skuse, Danns, Anderson (Woolford 45 mins); Stead.
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)