Nigel Pearson told his Bristol City players at half-time that the next 45 minutes against Millwall could transform their season.
The response was a fightback from 2-1 down to win 3-2 and claim three deserved points thanks to an Andreas Weimann hat-trick.
The experienced striker had capitalised on a mis-hit clearance from Bartosz Bialkowski to fire City into a seventh-minute lead.
But Tom Bradshaw’s 23rd-minute header plus a Benik Afobe penalty after he was brought down by Ryley Towler had Millwall ahead by the interval.
A seesaw contest was eventually settled by Weimann’s 73rd-minute strike from substitute Han-Noah Massengo’s cross and a close-range finish after Alex Scott’s 85th-minute shot had been blocked on the line.
A relieved Pearson, who named seven graduates from City’s academy in the starting line-up, said: “We made a lot of mistakes today, but we could also have scored more goals.
“By half-time we had let a winning position turn into a losing one and I stressed the importance of the second half in terms of turning our season around.
“Last year was a disappointing one for us and it was vital to start 2022 on a positive note.
“The response was excellent and I hope our fans have gone home knowing that their team gave everything to turn this match around.
“It is great for the club that so many young lads were involved. But when that is the case you are going to get setbacks.
“They are all talented enough to be playing, but it would be unrealistic not to expect errors here and there.
“Andi Weimann is having his best season for us in terms of goalscoring and we are only halfway through.”
Millwall boss Gary Rowett said: “I’m disappointed. We conceded three poor goals and you can’t do that and hope to win.
“We did well in the first half to overcome a rare error by Bartosz and looked in control at half-time.
“That was the turning point. They made substitutions and changed their shape, but we should have dealt with it better.
“The two second-half goals were bad from our point of view because we had three centre-backs, who should have dealt with the situations.
“Our squad has been severely tested over recent games and every time we take a step forward in terms of getting players fit we seem to take another one back.
“Mason Bennett went down ill last night and George Evans has come back into the squad, despite not being fully fit.
“We could possibly have had today’s game called off, but we didn’t want that to happen because we felt we could build on our win at Coventry.”
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