ALBION suffered their first home defeat of the season after ten-man City’s super-sub Edin Dzeko struck twice in the dying minutes.
Shane Long appeared to have set the hosts on their way to a fifth successive home win when he stabbed home his third league goal of the season in the 67th minute.
However, the champions ensured they would be making it 14 top-flight matches unbeaten when Dzeko headed home on 80 – just two minutes after coming on.
And the Bosnian striker completed an incredible turnaround when he polished off a swift City counter-attack two minutes into stoppage time.
Despite being down to ten men for the final 67 minutes after James Milner was red-carded for denying Long a clear goalscoring opportunity, it was City who had the better chances until the hosts broke the deadlock.
But in an incredible finish, the Baggies - and in particular sub Romelu Lukaku - went agonisingly close to earning a point.
Fifth entertained third at The Hawthorns this afternoon as the two teams with altogether different goals kicked off separated by just a single point.
During the pre-match warm-up, Albion’s players sported t-shirts promoting the club’s charitable arm after the game was dubbed ‘Albion Foundation Day’ to help raise the profile of, and funds for, their community-based work.
Liam Ridgewell was instantly recalled by Steve Clarke after injury as the Baggies boss made three changes. The former Villa man replaced Goran Popov while Graham Dorrans and Marc-Antoine Fortune also came in for Zoltan Gera and Peter Odemwingie.
Roberto Mancini also made three changes, with Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri replacing benched duo Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta plus the injured David Silva.
Albion made a bright start and should have won a corner after just 24 seconds when Fortune’s long-range effort clipped Joleon Lescott and spun wide – but the officials missed the deflection and awarded City a goal-kick.
City recorded their first shot at goal in the seventh minute when Nasri’s 20-yard free-kick clipped Gabriel Tamas in the Baggies wall and looped well wide.
Albion’s tigerish start was complemented by a wall of noise from the home sections as Clarke’s side squared up to the champions.
However, the visitors gradually got on top and, in the 13th minute, Ben Foster was well positioned to clutch Mario Balotelli’s 20-yard effort in his midriff.
Two minutes later, the Albion No.1 leapt high to his right to tip over Micah Richards’ towering header from Nasri’s corner.
Albion were working tirelessly to stifle City’s threat but Mancini’s men created a half chance on 21, with Carlos Tevez flashing an awkward volley wide from Balotelli’s left-wing centre.
However, the game suddenly swung Albion’s way on 23 when City were reduced to ten men. James Morrison slipped Long through the middle and the Republic of Ireland international would have had only Joe Hart to beat had he not been scythed down by Milner on the edge of the box. The former Villa man was immediately red-card by Mark Clattenburg.
Dorrans could only direct the ensuing free-kick into the City wall – but the momentum had now swung the Baggies’ way.
Now it was City being pegged back and Hart had to make a brave block to deny Dorrans at point-blank range after the Scotland international had exchanged an exquisite one-two with Gareth McAuley.
City’s team are packed with so much quality, though, that even with ten men they could cause the Baggies problems. On 37, Tevez skipped along the by-line before pulling the ball back to Nasri, who shot tamely at Foster from a tight angle.
Albion were soon back on the attack and Claudio Yacob wasn’t too far away with a 25-yard drive.
But some Balotelli magic created the game’s best chance thus far on 39. The Italian striker beat Tamas and McAuley down the left to get a clear sight of goal, only to see his low drive brilliantly kept out by Foster’s outstretched left leg.
Moments later, Albion only half-cleared a Nasri corner and from Kompany’s tee up, Gareth Barry drifted a 15-yard effort wide of the far post.
The Baggies threatened again before the break when Morrison shot over from 25 yards. The Scotland international went much closer with his next effort, volleying just over from the edge of the box after Dorrans’ corner had fallen neatly for him.
Foster was called into decisive action just two minutes after the restart. Tevez looked set to open the scoring with a 20-yard rocket which was destined for the top left-hand corner – until the Baggies keeper superbly clawed it wide at the last second.
Moments later, Tamas prevented Clichy’s goalbound exocet from the edge of the box troubling Foster with a brave block.
Albion began to enjoy plenty of possession but struggled to get any change out of City’s watertight defensive unit.
And City really should have been ahead on 59. Richards peeled away at the back post to head Tevez’s free-kick along the edge of the six-yard box. Balotelli failed to make proper contact but the ball looped up invitingly for Yaya Toure, who wastefully headed over from six yards.
The Baggies were not playing well but were holding on.
Clarke made his first change on 64, replacing Dorrans with Odemwingie.
Albion’s rearguard action continued when McAuley threw himself in the way of sub Sergio Aguero’s goalbound effort from Richards’ lay-off.
But, on 67, Clarke’s substitution paid off as Odemwingie set up the game’s opening goal.
The Nigerian cut in from the left and although his right-footed grass-cutter was weak, the alert Long ghosted in between City’s central defenders to tap it past the stranded Hart.
Albion were not content to sit on their lead and Odemwingie had a 20-yard drive deflected wide by Lescott.
Mancini also made what proved a telling substitution 12 minutes from time when he brought on Dzeko for Barry.
Just two minutes later, the Bosnian international beat Foster to Tevez’s flighted free-kick into the box to head City level.
The equaliser set up the most intense of grandstand finishes. City first went close when Tamas got in the way of Richards' fierce header from a corner.
But then it was all Albion.
Odemwingie had been a livewire since coming on and fellow sub Lukaku was inches away from connecting with his low cross in front of goal.
Odemwingie fired over from the edge of the box before, in the final minute, Lukaku could only plant a free header from sub Gera's cross straight at Hart.
From another Odemwingie centre, Lukaku thought he'd posted a real goal-of-the-season contender when his brilliant overhead kick from just inside the box arced towards the top left-hand corner - but Hart denied him with a stunning one-handed save.
However, from the ensuing corner, disaster struck. Albion lost possession on the edge of the City box and Aguero spearheaded a stunning City counter-attack. From Aguero's slide-rule ball, Dzeko swept home City’s winner from the edge of the box.
It was cruel on the Baggies and they still almost stole a point when, in the dying seconds, Lukaku saw another goalbound effort blocked by Clichy a yard out.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Tamas, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Yacob; Fortune, Morrison (Gera 72), Dorrans (Odemwingie 64); Long (Lukaku 82). Subs not used: L Daniels (gk), Rosenberg, Jara Reyes, Popov.
MAN CITY (4-4-2): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, Barry (Dzeko 78), Y Toure, Nasri; Balotelli (Aguero 64), Tevez (Kolarov 83). Subs not used: Pantilimon (gk), Zabaleta, Sinclair, K Toure.
GOALS: ALBION – Long (67). CITY – Dzeko (80 & 90+2).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Long (deliberate handball 27), Tamas (foul 32), Yacob (foul 35), Fortune (deliberate handball 61). MAN CITY – Balotelli (foul 19), Y Toure (foul 90).
SENDING-OFF: MAN CITY – Milner (professional foul 23).
REFEREE: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
ALBION STARMAN: Shane Long.