Manchester City 3 Tottenham 2: Balotelli makes Spurs pay penalty as striker settles thriller at the death
Mario Balotelli's injury-time penalty saw Manchester City edge a five-goal thriller with Tottenham.
But there could be a nasty sting in the tail for the Italian after he seemed to catch Scott Parker in the face with a needless kick.
Not that any disciplinary problems will bother City's supporters as they celebrated what could be a priceless victory in the title race.
Winner: Mario Balotelli fires home a late penalty to earn Manchester City all three points against Tottenham
Man City: Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Milner, Silva, Aguero, Nasri, Dzeko (Balotelli, 65)
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Johnson, Kolarov, Onuoha, De Jong
Goals: Nasri 56, Lescott 59, Balotelli 90+5 (pen)
Booked: Clichy, Balotelli, Parker
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Pienaar, 88), Parker, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart (Livermore 67), Defoe.
Subs not used: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Bassong, Dawson, Kranjcar.
Goals: Defoe 60, Bale 65
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)
After a goalless first half, the Blues were in control when Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott struck.
But Jermain Defoe profited from Stefan Savic's mistake almost immediately before Gareth Bale levelled with a magnificent curling shot.
Spurs seemed more likely winners after that.
But when Defoe could only turn an injury-time Bale cross narrowly wide as he slid in at the far-post, it gave Balotelli a chance to win the match after he had been fouled by Ledley King.
It maintained City's 100 per cent home record this season and piles the pressure on their rivals, who are all playing catch-up.
Knowing they would be eight points behind if they lost and with personal knowledge of the havoc City are capable of causing following that humiliating 5-1 defeat in August, Tottenham had good cause to make it a tight affair.
Bale threatened on a couple of occasions, and should have made more of the position he found himself in when he checked inside James Milner's sliding tackle.
Fan-tastic: Manchester City supporters celebrated Samir Nasri's goal with the Poznan
But Tottenham did not force Joe Hart into a meaningful save in the opening 45 minutes, Scott Parker and Younes Kaboul both firing well wide with long-range efforts.
It took City some time to get going, and even then they were only a sporadic threat.
However, in Sergio Aguero they had the game's most obvious first goalscorer.
Net gain: Defender Joleon Lescott bundled the ball over the line for City's second goal
The club record 38million front-man has looked tired in recent games as he attempted to shoulder the goalscoring burden. Here though, he excelled.
Having had Edin Dzeko nick the ball off his foot when he was lining up a shot at Wigan on Monday, the South American must have been dismayed when the same team-mate got in the way of his efforts to turn home David Silva's cutback.
Aguero's best opportunity came not long afterwards.
Pick that out: Gareth Bale curled home a beauty to haul Spurs back on level terms
In attempting to pass their way out of a tight spot by the touchline, Spurs only ended up getting themselves into trouble as Micah Richards thundered into Parker to seize possession.
Richards strode on into the box, then squared for Aguero, whose shot was superbly turned away by Friedel.
Of the millions of pounds splashed out last summer – and with more set to follow in the last nine days of this transfer window – the signing of a 40-year-old American may turn out to be the most astute.
Right back in it: Jermain Defoe beats Joe Hart to score in an explosive second half
Silva also fired across the face of Friedel's goal – but it was in the second half that the action started in earnest.
In truth, though it ended with a spectacular equaliser from Bale, City boss Roberto Mancini would have been disappointed with the four-goal burst in the space of 10 minutes because it saw his side toss away a winning position.
Not enough: Tottenham celebrate hauling themselves back into the game against City
City took the lead thanks to Silva's brilliant through-ball, which coincided perfectly with Nasri's dash from the left touchline that went completely unchecked even though it took him through the heart of the visitors' defence. The former Arsenal man has his critics but the shot which beat Friedel was blistering and gave the American no chance.
Flashpoint: Balotelli appears to stamp on Scott Parker in the second half before City went on to win
On their next attack, City doubled their advantage as Lescott first stood on Nasri's corner, then, from barely a yard, somehow sent the ball trundling over the line as he fell.
It should have been all over.
That it wasn't was due to Savic's bizarre attempt to reach Hart with a 50-yard back header that succeeded only in letting in Defoe, who rounded Hart, then turned the ball into an empty net.
Plenty to ponder: Spurs boss Harry Redknapp watched his side's title challenge falter
Bale's blockbuster came five minutes
later, one of those goals a keeper can only shrug their shoulders at
being beaten by, the Welshman's brilliant first-time curling effort from
Aaron Lennon's square pass finding the roof of Hart's net.
The goal frenzy triggered the arrival
of Balotelli, who had already been shown the yellow card when he
tangled with Parker, the initial contact accidental, the second far less
easy to excuse.
That he should remain on the pitch
was a matter for Spurs to reflect on as the Italian coolly converted his
penalty to delight the City fans.
Happy days: City celebrate Balotelli's late winner as they maintain their 100 per cent home record