Stephen Ireland's first goal for Manchester City handed the visitors a fortunate victory at Sheffield United.
Joey Barton congratulates Stephen Ireland on his first goal for Man City
The visitors should have been awarded a penalty in the first half when Robert Kozluk blatantly punched Micah Richards' towering header off the line.
They were under siege for much of the second half with Christian Nade and Rob Hulse going close after goal scrambles.
But Ireland stole the points on 77 minutes with a sweetly-struck left-foot drive after Georgios Samaras' lay-off.
The result means City move three points clear of their opponents, but Stuart Pearce's side can count themselves lucky to have taken maximum points.
Neither side flew out of the traps and the final ball on both sides lacked the penetration and quality to unlock the opposing defence.
And a tufted pitch as well as a lack of quality in the final third contibuted to a scrappy first period of few chances.
City's best two opportunities of the first half involved an element of fortune for the home side.
The first came when Ousmane Dabo's tame effort from distance bobbled up off the pitch and hit Blades keeper Paddy Kenny on the forehead before falling to safety.
The second came when Kozluk punched Richards' towering header off the line.
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With the ball heading into the net, the Blades full-back cheekily fisted the ball to safety with referee Mark Clattenburg failing to spot the misdemeanour.
Sheffield United enjoyed the better of possession and chances in the first half with Nicky Weaver twice forced into making fine diving saves.
The first came from Stephen Quinn who hit a half-volley from the edge of the box to Weaver's left, the second a rasping half-volley from similar range from Phil Jagielka that was palmed round the post.
The hosts started the second period well and soon began to pepper Weaver's goal.
Quinn blasted a bouncing ball over the bar and an unmarked Nade was denied from close range by the superb Weaver.
But it was City should have taken the lead 10 minutes into the second half with Samaras shanking a glorious close-range opportunity out for a throw in.
The Blades dominated proceedings in a lively second half and laid siege on Weaver's goal with a succession of goal-scrambles and blocked shots.
But City, led by an inspired Richard Dunne, held firm and took the lead with a rare foray forward with 13 minutes remaining.
Samaras chested down Hatem Trabelsi's pass and Ireland hit his drive into the left corner of Kenny's net.
The Blades piled forward in the last 10 minutes in search of a deserved equaliser, but City dug in to deny United a point.
Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock:
"It's difficult to know what to say after that, we dominated the game so much.
"The lads gave me everything. I'm disappointed for them - one team came to win and one team didn't want to lose. On another day we could've scored three or four, but it wasn't to be.
"Their goalie made some great saves and Paddy Kenny's not had to, other than to pick the ball out of the net."
Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce:
"It was a hard-earned victory, we were fortunate at times and I was pleased with our resilience but not so pleased with our football.
"Every time you play here you have to fight for everything you get.
"The resilience we showed was commendable. We've come out fighting and shown great character, there's is a lot of character in the dressing room."
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Kozluk, Morgan, Davis (Bromby 68), Geary (Armstrong 26), Gillespie, Jagielka, Tonge, Stephen Quinn, Webber (Nade 76), Hulse.
Subs Not Used: Alan Quinn, Kazim-Richards.
Booked: Bromby, Morgan.
Man City: Weaver, Richards, Dunne, Onuoha (Jordan 85), Distin, Trabelsi, Barton, Dabo, Ireland, Vassell (Miller 90), Corradi (Samaras 46).
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Beasley.
Goals: Ireland 78.
Ref: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).