On such days can title bids be made. The old adage of grinding out wins when not quite at your best is often bandied around, but perhaps as telling (if not important) is to come away with the points from a game that should have been won, was thrown away and almost lost before snatching a late winner out of nowhere and rescuing points that in the context of the day (with United subsequently winning) that could provide so important.
Whilst an injury time winner will always be tinged with fortune - added to this Jermain Defoe's miss a matter of minutes earlier - it was a game City contrived to throw away, ceding both advantage and momentum to Tottenham with Stefan Savic's mis-placed header that allowed Defoe to stop them in their tracks when they appeared to be completely dominating. So far at The Etihad Stadium City have swept all before them: 10 wins from 10 games, 31 goals scored and only four conceded heading into the game, but this was a Tottenham side that would not be fazed by the reputation City have forged, nor be cowed as some visiting teams have been. It was a remarkable second half to a game that promised much but delivered little over the first forty-five minutes before a moment of David Silva quality sparked the game into life that saw City go two goals ahead, only to be stunned as Tottenham draw level - all within the space of ten minutes at the start of the second half.
Since he de-camped to the African Cup of Nations, City's midfield has had a Yaya Toure-sized hole through it but today was possibly the midfields best performance in his absence. When the teams were announced I wondered if Nigel de Jong may have got the start - to counter the effect of van der Vaart and Bale (cutting inside) - but the two partnerships of two midfielders worked well amidst the pressure put on them but a Tottenham attacking that was constantly threatening. James Milner in particular (he, rather than Barry playing the more restrictive 'de Jong' role) deservedly took the man of the match award; dynamic, tenacious and obstinate in equal measure, restricting Tottenham in the main to long range shots and allowing the creative talents of David Silva and Samir Nasri to thrive. Silva, off colour of late and troubled with an ankle injury, showed a welcome return to form, whilst Nasri was as industrious and creative as he has been since he shone at White Hart Lane in the earlier game between the two sides.
Whilst Tottenham were a constant threat, the tempo and tone of their play being set by Gareth Bale, it was clear that despite his willingness to work Jermain Defoe was not able to fill the sizeable presence of Emmanuel Adebayor. Although short of goals in recent weeks, his size and ability to link with van der Vaart and Modric was a big miss for a side who attempted 50% more long balls (66 to 42) than their opponents and whose game is based on quick breaks and catching opponents out. For the most part - aided by the duo of Barry and Milner - both Joleon Lescott, a commanding presence in Vincent Kompany's absence, and Stefan Savic (prior to his misjudgement at least) held Tottenham at bay.
Inevitably perhaps, for a game that had so many talking points, it would be Mario Balotelli that would steal both the limelight and the headlines. Having only been introduced into the fray with only twenty-five minutes remaining, the Italian picked up a yellow card (that appeared to be based largely on reputation) before appearing to kick out at Scott Parker following a challenge. Replays, whilst indicating guilt on his part, may well not be conclusive enough for retrospective action but he could well face an inopportune four game ban. Not content though with potentially grabbing the headlines, he then made sure the story was all about him when after being fouled by Ledley King in the final minute of injury-time before calmly stroking the spot kick home to give City what could be a decisive victory.