Nikita Parris had halved the deficit late on with an 82nd minute penalty, after Danique Kerdjik and Juliette Kemppi had handed the visitors a shock lead, before the skipper stepped up to unleash an unstoppable curling effort past Sophie Baggaley with a minute of normal time remaining to preserve the hosts' unbeaten start to the season.
The two sides went into the game with zero goals conceded between them in the league so far, and were fortunate to still have their perfect defensive records intact after ten minutes. Jill Scott’s header from Caroline Weir’s corner flew agonisingly over the bar, and a minute later Ellie Rutherford couldn’t make the most of a golden chance for the visitors, her tame effort saved comfortably by Karen Bardsley.
A 15th minute tap in from Bristol’s Kerdjik caused Nick Cushing’s side to go behind for the first time this season. Rutherford’s floated free kick caused problems for Bardsley, whose parry fell invitingly for the visitors' number six.
City reacted well, and strikes from Parris, Weir and Nadia Nadim all forced good stops from Baggaley. The Vixens’ goalkeeper was in fine form, and her brave save at the feet of Nadim in the 43rd minute capped a frustrating first half for the home side.
Having just held onto their lead in the first 45, the visitors doubled it just five minutes into the second half. A counter attack led to Bardsley having to act as a sweeper keeper, she lost possession under pressure from Kemppi and the Bristol striker did well to keep her calm, lobbing the ball into the City net from 40 yards.
With a two goal cushion to work with, Bristol dropped into a very defensive set up, making it hard for the Blues to create anything particularly dangerous. The home side’s tenacity was finally rewarded in the 82nd minute as the referee pointed to the spot for a foul on Parris, who successfully slotted the penalty into the bottom left corner of Baggaley’s net.
In the last minute of the 90, skipper Houghton hit a brilliant curling effort first-time to make the scores level, receiving the ball 25 yards out, and striking the ball venomously into the top left corner.
The equaliser gave City a huge boost going into added time, and Jess Park’s close range effort nearly completed a miraculous turnaround, her effort just lacking the power to beat the 'keeper, in the last major action of the game.
How we lined up..
Bardsley was shielded by a back three of Houghton, Jen Beattie and Abbie McManus, with Weir and Keira Walsh in defensive midfield.
Scott and Tessa Wullaert played more advanced roles while Parris and Claire Emslie provided the width for Nadim up front.
City host Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, having drawn 1-1 away in the first leg. We’re back in league action on Sunday as we travel to Solihull Moors’ stadium to face Birmingham (12:30pm BST).
Tickets for Wednesday's Champions League clash are on sale, available from tickets.mancity.com or via the Etihad Stadium Ticket Office.