Jason Strange missed a last-kick conversion which would have secured a win over Saracens and taken the Memorial Ground side to the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
Strange’s touchline effort drifted wide after his half-back partner Shaun Perry tied the game up by touching down nine minutes into injury time.
Dan Scarbrough and Glen Jackson looked to have steered Saracens home by landing injury time drop-goals.
Full-back Scarbrough, who had earlier scored his team’s solitary try, found the target from 45 metres just when it looked as though Bristol might cling on for an unspectacular win, then Jackson emulated his colleague’s long-range effort.
A Bristol triumph would have guided them above west country neighbours Gloucester at the Premiership summit, but the bookmakers’ relegation favourites lacked composure when Saracens exerted late pressure.
In the end, it took a Herculean effort from the Bristol pack to set up Perry’s score after an early try from prop Darren Crompton.
Strange also booted a penalty, while Jackson improved Scarbrough’s touchdown, but the game was depressingly low on skill, ambition and execution.
Bristol, buoyant after inflicting a record Premiership home defeat on Worcester last weekend, made one change following that Sixways romp as centre Sam Cox took over from Andy Reay.
Saracens, narrowly beaten by Wasps at Twickenham in their opener, called up Irish international hooker Shane Byrne instead of Fabio Ongaro, but rugby director Alan Gaffney otherwise retained the same side ahead of Andy Farrell’s probable union debut against Guinness A League opponents Harlequins tomorrow night.
Both sides displayed early promise in perfect playing conditions, yet Saracens struck from their first serious attack after five minutes.
Skipper Simon Raiwalui opened up a congested midfield with an audacious long pass, allowing Scarbrough to cut back inside on a searing angle that left Bristol defenders clutching thin air.
Jackson slotted the conversion, giving Bristol an immediate wake-up call and removing any hint of complacency generated by the Worcester stroll.
Strange reduced the arrears through a 12th-minute penalty after Saracens fumbled possession and then infringed 40 metres out, but the remaining action of a dire opening period was littered with errors.
Both sides struggled to complete passages of play through making basic mistakes, and although Bristol full-back Josh Taumalolo attempted an occasional counter-attack, his colleagues lacked composure and inspiration.
Saracens used heavy-hitting forwards such as Raiwalui, Tom Ryder and Hugh Vyvyan to good effect in midfield, but try-scoring opportunities were at a premium, despite the optimism generated by Scarbrough’s strike.
Bristol always looked most likely to breach their opponents’ defence through a route-one approach, and their pack blasted enough defensive holes that meant Saracens could not prevent an equalising try.
The home forwards launched a menacing 45th-minute drive, with only one realistic outcome once their charge gathered momentum.
Crompton was awarded the touchdown, edging Bristol ahead for the first time, but tedium soon returned in a game of desperately low quality.
Bristol, as if reminded of the fact by their head coach Richard Hill at half-time, possessed sufficient pack power to execute a simple game plan and secure the points.
Too often though, they moved away from that area of strength, allowing Saracens to remain in contention.
The visitors should have regained the lead 12 minutes from time when Strange was caught offside just outside his own 22. Jackson though, arrowed his penalty attempt wide, and Bristol escaped.
Strange needed treatment for a facial cut as intensity levels belatedly increased, and after a lengthy spell of defending, Bristol fought their way back upfield in an attempt to close the game out.
Nine minutes of injury time meant Bristol still had it all to do, and they fell behind when Scarbrough landed his decisive drop-goal before Jackson struck and Strange’s last-gasp failure meant the points were shared.