Points which were of vital importance to both clubs went in the end to Notts County because they carried the greater threat in front of goal despite Bristol City creating the greater number of scoring chances.
Notts went into the game on the back of not having won any of their previous four matches and knowing that defeat would send them back into the bottom four.
City, on the other hand, still needed points to end a lean spell and push for promotion.
And it was City who dominated a lacklustre first half in which Notts created only one scoring opportunity and that was off target. City enjoyed most of the possession and territorial advantage, but the tests for Notts goalkeeper Steve Milldenhall were few and far between.
Notts manager Billy Dearden said afterwards that his players had shown City far too much respect in the first 45 minutes but they had a different attitude at the start of the second half.
They twice nearly got the opening goal before a hotly disputed penalty gave them the lead.
Mark Stallard was held back in the area and, amid an uproar, created by City's long protests, kept cool to smash home the penalty past Steve Phillips.
The goal acted as an obvious boost to County's confidence and their best move of the match produced a thrilling second goal. The ball was switched around before landing at the feet of overlapping full-back Paul Bolland, whose cross to the far post was returned by Ian Richardson for young Irish striker Paul Heffernan to head powerfully into the net.
City threw caution to the winds to try to retrieve the game, bringing strikers Peter Beadle and Christian Roberts off the bench, but whenever they found a way through Milldenhall proved to be in top form.
His best save, involving a change of direction, was to keep out a close-range hit by City midfielder Tom Doherty.
Notts felt they should have had a second penalty when Heffernan was pushed off the ball in the box, but they were pleased above all to achieve their first clean sheet in 11 matches and for that Milldenhall takes most of the credit.