Leicester went to the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP table with their fourth league victory in a row against a Bristol side seemingly doomed for relegation.
The hosts produced a spirited display to take a losing bonus point, but it could have been more but for a disappointing second half after they had led 14-7 at the break.
Victory could have come at a cost for the Tigers with wing Matt Smith, scrum-half Julian Dupuy and flanker Marco Wentzel suffering injuries to join the seven players already sidelined.
Former England international hooker Mark Regan made his 200th Premiership appearance as he returned to the Bristol front row where he was joined by prop Alex Clarke who made his first start since December.
Luke Arscott returned at full-back for Bristol with brother Tom switching to his usual role on the right wing. David Lemi returned on the left wing having recovered from injury forcing Nathan Brew to move to centre.
Robert Sidoli was back after a lengthy injury-enforced absence to replace the injured Nathan Budgett in the second row, with Alfie To’oala recalled at blindside flanker.
England international centre Dan Hipkiss returned to the Tigers line-up so Matt Smith switched to the wing with Scott Hamilton moving to full-back. In the forwards Mefin Davies was at hooker, Dan Cole at tighthead prop and Wentzel at blindside flanker.
Bristol missed two early opportunities to take the lead when they were first penalised at their own 15-metre scrum and minutes later Ed Barnes saw his 40-metre penalty attempt sail past the left upright.
The Tigers took the lead while down to 14 men, as Smith was receiving treatment for a right leg injury, as Cole picked up from a ruck and slipped a couple of half tackles to score under the posts with Dupuy adding the extras.
Bristol replied immediately as Arscott broke through before passing to Sidoli. The lock was stopped just short of the line but managed to return the pass to the full-back to touchdown with Barnes adding the conversion.
Leicester looked on course to score a second try midway through the half as Alesana Tuilagi was on course for the line but the Samoan winger’s pass was intercepted by Nathan Brew who ran cross field before clearing to touch.
The visitors wasted another opportunity to score as scrum-half Dupuy broke through but held on to the ball too long and his pass to Tuilagi went to ground and Dupuy, who kicked seven penalties against Gloucester last weekend, had to leave the field with a leg injury.
Five minutes before the break Bristol went into the lead as they worked the ball along the backs to wing Lemi who ran in 20 metres down the left unopposed with Barnes adding the touchline conversion to the cheers of their supporters.
Just before the interval the Tigers lost a third players to injury as flanker Wentzel had to be carried from the pitch on a stretcher to be replaced Ben Herring as Bristol led 14-7 at the break.
Leicester reduced the arrears to a single points as simple errors and poor discipline crept in to Bristol’s play. Fly-half Tom Vesty first kicked a simple 10-metre penalty from in front of the posts and a second from 41 metres.
Bristol came back as Neil Brew broke through supported by Sidoli, and then Lemi, before Leicester were penalised at the breakdown and Barnes kicked the penalty.
But Leicester came back as replacement scrum-half Ben Youngs raced away before off-loading to Hipkiss who scored under the posts and Vesty added the simple conversion and a penalty in the final minute to seal the game.