WORCESTER Warriors’ Aviva Premiership relegation woes intensified after a damaging 28-20 defeat at 14-man Bristol in a pulsating clash at Ashton Gate.

The bottom club deserved their victory despite being a man short for 66 minutes after Samoan centre Tusi Pisi was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Jamie Shillcock.

Former England wing Tom Varndell grabbed a match-winning hat-trick for Bristol as they picked up their first league victory of the campaign.

It was a sobering defeat for second-from-bottom Warriors who lacked direction and composure and will face a struggle to maintain their Premiership status in 2017.

Warriors suffered a pre-match blow when powerful loosehead prop Val Rapava Ruskin was ruled out through illness and replaced by Na'ama Leleimalefaga.

Bristol had the early pressure and full-back Jason Woodward kicked the hosts into a 3-0 lead after just four minutes.

But Warriors hit back after Bristol were sloppy at the restart and Shillcock’s three-pointer levelled the contest in the seventh minute.

However, the heart of Worcester’s defence was split open by fly-half Billy Searle in the 11th minute and the supporting Varndell had a simple run to the line.

Woodward added the conversion to put Bristol 10-3 ahead.

An apparent turning point in the contest arrived in the 14th minute when Bristol were reduced to 14 men.

Centre Pisi caught Shillcock in the air with a clumsy challenge and was red-carded by referee Wayne Barnes.

Shillcock left the field with a head injury and was replaced by Connor Braid who was a late inclusion in Worcester’s squad.

Chris Pennell took over the kicking duties and slotted a close-range penalty for the visitors before Warriors broke through for their first try in the 20th minute.

The returning Ben Te’o muscled his way towards the Bristol line and Warriors quickly recycled the ball, allowing Darren Barry to crash over from close range.

Pennell added the conversion before the rejuvenated hosts hit back strongly in the 25th minute.

Varndell broke down the left and brushed aside the covering Pennell to touch down in the corner. Woodward missed the conversion.

Warriors had another let-off on the half-hour after they were penalised at the scrum but Woodward dragged his 40-metre attempt wide.

Bristol continue to threaten and a driving maul took them within a metre of Worcester’s line before it was pulled down by Barry.

The Warriors lock was dispatched to the sin-bin by Barnes in the 33rd minute and Woodward’s penalty extended Bristol’s advantage to 18-13.

Bristol continued to have the advantage in the forward exchanges but Warriors’ set-piece held firm in the dying seconds of the first period to withstand a five-metre scrum.

Warriors trailed 18-13 at the interval.

With Barry back on the field, Warriors looked to make their advantage count but were guilty of making too many handling errors.

Bristol exploded into life when Varndell broke the left and Warriors were pinged at the breakdown with Woodward’s penalty extending their advantage to 21-13.

Flanker Sam Lewis made a vital turnover inside his own 22 as Bristol continued to have the upper-hand in the contest.

The drama continued and, out of the blue, Warriors broke from inside their own half and Dean Hammond raced on to a pass from Pennell to go under the posts.

Pennell’s conversion cut Bristol’s lead to 21-20.

But Bristol hit back immediately. Weak tackling allowed Varndell to cross for his third try with Woodward’s conversion stretching the hosts’ lead to 28-20.

Pennell badly miscued a penalty attempt wide of the posts with eight minutes remaining as the visitors failed in their search for a bonus point.

It was the first time newly-promoted Bristol, who had lost their 13 previous Premiership games in a row, had won a top-flight match since they trounced Warriors 37-18 in March 2009.