Gareth Barry's header in the third minute of injury time against bottom club Reading on Saturday earned City a barely deserved 1-0 victory that sliced United's lead at the top to three points - until United meet Swansea on Sunday, at least.
It was the fourth time in the league this season Roberto Mancini's side has scored a winner in the 87th minute or later.
Mancini would rather his players make things more comfortable for themselves, but with his team not scoring as freely as last season, the Italian praised instead their willpower.
"It's more important to score early in games - my heart is not strong for these late goals," Mancini said after Barry climbed high to spark celebrations at the Etihad Stadium.
"You have to be strong because (Reading) defended really well, with lots of players behind the ball, and we didn't find the space to play.
"In the end I'm happy with this victory. Our attitude was good, we kept our concentration until the end - we tried until the last second."
England midfielder Barry said the result was a relief, especially after City suffered defeat to title rivals United in their previous home fixture having gone 37 league games at the Etihad undefeated.
"Turning one point into three was massive," Barry told City's website (www.mcfc.co.uk). "It was a tough afternoon and we were probably starting to panic a bit that we were going to drop some more points at home, but we were delighted to get in with three points.
"We scored so many late goals last season and a few more this year and they can be vital at the end of the season."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Stephen Wood)
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- Roberto Mancini
- Gareth Barry