London Wasps pushed Bristol to the brink of Guinness Premiership relegation with a 21-19 victory at Adams Park on Sunday, but the reigning champions failed to convince with a haphazard display.
The form book appeared to offer a clear indication - Wasps last tasted defeat at Adams Park in November, while Bristol have not won away in the Premiership all season - but Bristol, who will now have their relegation confirmed if they lose at home to Worcester next week, did not play at all like a team without hope. Indeed, they won the try count 2-1.
Wasps started with intent, camped on the Bristol line for five of the first eight minutes, but eventually had to settle for a Danny Cipriani penalty to open the scoring after valiant Bristol defence.
Bristol, coming into the match off eight straight defeats, steadied themselves and made some inroads into Wasps territory before a piece of David Lemi magic produced the first try in the 22nd minute for the visitors. The diminutive Samoan speedster combined with former England scrum-half Shaun Perry to outflank Wasps on the blindside and scoot unchallenged to the line from 25 metres out.
Ed Barnes missed the conversion and shortly afterwards Cipriani restored Wasps' lead with his second penalty.
The rock-bottom west country side were undeterred, as Wasps struggled to impose themselves. Lemi again caused confusion around the Wasps 22 and, following swift recycling, powerful wing Lee Robinson strode into the corner. Barnes converted and, with half an hour gone, Bristol had a 12-6 lead.
There was a lack of accuracy and co-ordination in most things that a Wasps side again shorn of a host of internationals attempted, typified by a horrendously-scuffed penalty attempt by Cipriani.
A darting Mark van Gisbergen break ended with veteran Bristol lock Roy Winters killing the ball on the floor and being sent to the sin-bin.
Cipriani made up for his previous blooper to reduce Wasps' arrears to three points at the break.
Cipriani failed to appear for the second half due to a recurrence of his ankle problems, replaced by Dave Walder, whose drop goal won this fixture for Wasps last season.
The former Newcastle man was denied a try after a Van Gisbergen fumble messed up a clear overlap. Bristol had survived intact at the end of the sin-bin.
With head coach Shaun Edwards a brooding presence on the touchline, Wasps eventually broke through the dogged Bristol defence just before the hour mark. Dominic Waldouck's initial thrust and superb continuity by debutant prop Bob Baker created the room for Lachlan Mitchell to score in the corner.
Walder's excellent conversion made it 16-12 but Wasps failed to push on, as the match meandered towards the closing 10 minutes.
Waldouck and Lewsey almost conjured a second Wasps try but again the finish was lacking, while George Skivington and Eoin Reddan both knocked on with the line gaping.
Youngster Charlie Beech's try appeared to provide clear water at last for Wasps, but back Bristol came through a second Robinson try and Barnes conversion to give the home crowd an edgy finish.
For London Wasps:
Tries: Mitchell, Beech
Pens: Cipriani 3
Tries: Lemi, Robinson 2
Cons: Barnes 2
Yellow card(s): Winters (Bristol), 39
London Wasps: 15 Mark Van Gisbergen, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Josh Lewsey, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 John Hart, 7 Tom Rees/Dan Leo, 6 Serge Betsen (C), 5 George Skivington, 4 Richard Birkett, 3 Pat Barnard, 2 Rob Webber , 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Charlie Beech, 18 Marty Veale , 19 Dan Leo/Hugo Ellis, 20 Mark Robinson, 21 Dave Walder 22 Mark Odejobi.
Bristol: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Lee Robinson, 13 Neil Brew, 12 Junior Fatialofa, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ed Barnes, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Alfie To'oala, 7 Joe El Abd (capt), 6 Redford Pennycook, 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Roy Winters, 3 Darren Crompton, 2 Scott Linklater, 1 Mark Irish.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Hayes, 17 Wayne Thompson, 18 Mariano Sambucetti, 19 Dan Ward-Smith, 20 Haydn Thomas, 21 Greg Barden, 22 Tom Arscott.
Referee: Martin Fox