TEN-man City needed a brilliant late save from Shay Given to earn them a point at Wigan.
The dismissal of Pablo Zabaleta for two bookable offences condemned the Blues to a difficult last 25 minutes.
And Hugo Rodallega thought he has profited with a close-range volley a minute from time, only for Given to deny him.
Wigan might grumble, although City were just about worthy of a point. Not that it will save them from a few harsh words from manager Mark Hughes, who must have been disappointed with a poor first-half display, in which Charles N'Zogbia put the hosts in front before Martin Petrov levelled at the start of the second period.
For once, City were vying for the pre-match headlines, with Alan Wiley of all people after Sir Alex Ferguson's ill-advised attack on the Staffordshire official a fortnight ago.
At Old Trafford there had been no obvious sign of the referee lacking fitness, as Ferguson claimed - comments he has subsequently apologised for and will surely get punished for when the FA announce whether the Scot will face a charge tomorrow.
And again, Wiley appeared to be up with play at all the crucial points, getting all the big decisions right, including Zabaleta's red card.
Hughes was probably glad attention was diverted away from his team, who struggled to express themselves and were let down too often by Petrov's poor set-piece delivery.
Emmanuel Adebayor forced Chris Kirkland into one decent save and Carlos Tevez did not react fast enough when Maynor Figueroa nudged a header into his path. But there was a paucity of chances for the visitors that did not sit easily with the growing feeling they will be involved in the title shake-up.
In contrast, Wigan, limited as they were, always gave the impression of a side pushing themselves to the limit.
In Rodallega they had an obvious danger man and he brought an excellent save out of Given with a dipping 25-yard strike.
Still, a goalless opening period was drawing to a seemingly inevitable conclusion when Rodallega, set up by the industrious Jason Scotland, went for the far corner with an angled drive.
Given did well to keep it out. But the Republic of Ireland star, named skipper in the absence of Kolo Toure, could only push the ball into N'Zogbia's path.
That the former Newcastle man beat Wayne Bridge as he slid home in will do nothing to dispel the theory that England's second-choice full-back has been one of Hughes' big disappointments this term.
Chelsea have been beaten on this ground, while Manchester United recorded a five-goal win, so the result was not going to be a reliable guide to City's progress.
Nevertheless, having no doubt implored his side to do better, Hughes must have been delighted the Blues took just 65 seconds to level.
Not unusually, Tevez was the creator but Roberto Martinez will wonder why Mohamed Diame over-ran the Argentine's square ball from the touchline after Shaun Wright-Phillips had missed it.
Diame's error left Petrov with a clear sight of goal and he found the bottom corner with a precise shot.
The Blues should have been in front moments later, with Tevez again the architect, playing a superb ball through the Wigan defence for Adebayor.
Although Titus Bramble slid across to make a fine tackle, the loose ball rolled perfectly for Wright-Phillips, whose goalbound effort looped over off Adebayor, who was still on the floor.
City's increased threat and Wigan's desperation to get something from the contest brought an edge to the game, which Adebayor did not do much to quell with a cynical tackle he was fortunate to get away with after the game had already been stopped.
But with challenges flying in, there was a risking of someone's afternoon ending early. Zabaleta turned out to be the man, although his fury as Wiley produced red for a tackle on Scotland was not really matched by the reality, which was the full-back missing the ball completely as he lunged in.
Not that Figueroa would have had any defence either if Wiley had got a proper view of his penalty-box challenge on Wright-Phillips.
Wigan were more likely winners at the end. But Given was equal to Rodellaga's late volley, which seemed certain to end in the net, to preserve a point for the visitors.