Micah Richards thought his brilliant first goal since January had earned City three priceless points only for never-say-die Stoke to conjure a deflating equaliser in the final seconds at the Britannia Stadium.
The England defender's strike - his first since last season's 4-1 home win over Blackburn - should have ensured a second successive away win but home winger Matthew Etherington ruined Roberto Mancini's 46th birthday treat.
Stoke bundled the Blues out of the FA Cup last season and Gareth Barry's last-gasp effort rescued a point in thre Premier League clash, but the late drama was reversed on a ground where City have not won since 1999.
Mario Balotelli returned to the starting line-up after the three-match suspension he picked up on his last visit to the Midlands, but predictably it was his team-mates at the other end who saw more first-half action.
Mancini is well versed in Stoke's ways after four meetings last season - and only the one victory to show - but their long throws from Rory Delap can still cause consternation in the most organised of defences.
That isn't the only weapon in the Potters' armoury, of course, sand Ricky Fuller's skills in a smartly-executed one-two with Kenwyne Jones split City open after 16 minutes only for Fuller to pull his shot wide.
Hart had to be brave too to save at the feet of lively Matt Etherington as Stoke claimed the lion's share of the early play, and centre-half Robert Huth wasted another close-range chance from a Delap long throw.
A midfield lacking the powerful surges of Yaya Toure - ruled out by a migraine and replaced by James Milner - was not as threatening as a week previously at Fulham, but David Silva's trickery posed problems for Stoke.
The Spaniard and skipper Carlos Tevez, both bolstered against the Staffordshire cold by snoods, played Milner in with sublime passing but when the City man went down under Andy Wilkinson's challenge referee Walton played on.
Silva's nice work on the left flank resulted in a cross just inches too high to benefit Tevez, who was denied an opener before the interval by keeper Begovic when Collins' risky backpass invited the interception.
There was a feeling that Stoke had taken their best shot and would struggle to maintain that tempo, especially with Jermaine Pennant's failure to re-appear for a second half that saw City take a grip of the game.
Yet despite the Blues' possession as the game progressed, Mancini's men could not break the deadlock and even a gilt-edged low cross from Kolarov managed to evade the onrushing Balotelli at the near post.
Indeed, Stoke went close themselves when Jones soared to meet a corner and powered in a header that Milner managed to keep out with his thigh on the line before Tuncay ended the uncertainty with a shot over the bar.
The scene looked set for a special goal to decide a tense game, and it seemed Richards had made the difference as he dummied Collins to allow Silva's through pass into the box and smashed it low beyond Begovic's dive.
Stoke were stung but not finished, and cruelly for City as time added on petered out, Tuncay played in Etherington with a superb backheel from Jones' header and Hart could not keep out the winger's instant low drive.