Manchester City's Champions League campaign was left hanging by a thread after having to fight back from two down for a 2-2 draw with Ajax at the Etihad Stadium.
The home side were stunned during 17 first-half minutes as Ajax captain Siem de Jong twice benefited from static defending from corner kicks to leave Roberto Mancini's men staring another early exit from the competition in the face.
But Yaya Toure's fine volley five minutes later gave them hope before Sergio Aguero, who also had two other efforts chalked off by the offside flag, restored parity with little over quarter of an hour remaining.
The exciting encounter finished in hostile circumstances as substitute Mario Balotelli's appeal for a penalty for what appeared to be a blatant shirt pull in the box from Ricardo van Rhijn was ignored by referee Peter Rasmussen, leading to the striker and his manager both sharing heated words with the Danish official following the final whistle.
The draw, combined with Borussia Dortmund's 2-2 scoreline at Real Madrid, leaves the Blues needing to beat both of their fellow domestic league champions on matchdays five and six - and hope for other results to fall in their favour - if they are to participate in the round of 16.
City, making three changes from the side that were held by West Ham in the Premier League, could only attract a fraction of their usual attendance for this potentially-crucial European contest, but wasted little time assuming control of the encounter.
Howver, with just 10 minutes on the clock, all of that initial possession counted for nothing as careless defending from a corner kick left the hosts trailing: no less than five defenders watched on in a group as a ball they assumed was bouncing over the byline was salvaged by De Jong’s sliding poke towards goal, squeezing inside Joe Hart for 1-0.
It was even easier for the attacking midfielder seven minutes later, as Christian Eriksen’s delivery from the opposite flag was casually headed in at the near post for De Jong’s second and dire straits for City.
The hosts needed to begin their fight-back as soon as possible with the visitors’ confidence growing, and that they did on 22 minutes as Samir Nasri’s inverted cross was eventually brought down at the far post by Toure, whose volleyed finish left Kenneth Vermeer with no chance.
A last-ditch header from Van Rhijn prevented Carlos Tevez from heading in a centre from compatriot Aguero in the 27th, but Frank de Boer’s young side were able to contain the English club for the remainder of the half.
Gael Clichy’s cross eight minutes after the break picked out Aguero with perfection, but as the forward tucked the ball into the corner of Vermeer’s net, the offside flag went up.
De Jong had more than one great chance to secure an impressive Champions League hat-trick, the first coming on 57 minutes when former Liverpool man Ryan Babel teed him up to force a great parry from Hart with a rasping 20-yard drive.
And on the hour, Aguero – who had lost his footing more than once on the Etihad turf throughout the contest – beat an onrushing Vermeer inside the area only to slip at the byline before he could lay on a square pass for Balotelli, who stood yards away from the open goal.
But the Argentine would finally get on the scoresheet minutes after De Jong again tested Hart with a free-kick, City going route one with Balotelli deftly heading the ball into the path of his strike partner who fired the leveller into the corner.
Vermeer denied Balotelli’s headed effort from a free-kick with a fantastic diving save and the offside flag denied Aguero once again before Eriksen was set up by prodigal substitute Viktor Fischer to try his luck from distance, only for Hart to tip over.
And with time all but expired, the goalkeeper launched a defensive free-kick forward where Balotelli brought down Edin Dzeko’s headed flick, only to have his shirt pulled by Van Rhijn.
Though it appeared as if Rasmussen would blow up for a dramatic late penalty, after much thought he instead signalled for the end of the contest to the home team’s dismay and displeasure.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sergio Aguero - Manchester City: While deficiencies at the back almost sent City crashing out of the competition, Aguero's dynamic performance up front helped keep the Premier League champions alive - for now.
MANCHESTER CITY - Hart 8, Zabaleta 7 , Kompany 7, Nastasic 4, Clichy 5, Garcia 4, Barry 5, Yaya Toure 7, Nasri 6, Tevez 7, Aguero 8. Subs: Kolarov n/a, Dzeko 6, Balotelli 7.
AJAX: Vermeer 7, Van Rhijn 7, Moisander 7, Alderweireld 7, Blind 6, Schone 5, Poulsen 6, De Jong 8, Boerrigter 6, Eriksen 7, Babel 7. Subs: Enoh 5, Sana n/a, Fischer n/a.