David Silva underlined his increasing value to Roberto Mancini's team as they squeezed past stubborn Wigan to keep second-placed Arsenal within their sights.
Silva is also now answering the criticism that he does not produce enough goals for an attacking midfielder, and he followed his strike in midweek with a winner against Wigan that could prove crucial come May.
No matter that it owed so much to hapless Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi - Silva's 38th-minute goal was golden against a team that presented jaded City with more problems than several better-placed sides have this season.
Indeed, Wigan did not conduct themselves like a side struggling at the foot of the table, and there were times during the first half before Silva struck that they looked likely to snatch the lead themselves.
It was perhaps indicative of the problems they posed that both Micah Richards and Gareth Barry were shown yellow cards by Stuart Attwell, who resisted calls for a harsher penalty over Richards' tackle on Tom Cleverley.
Hugo Rodallega, the victim of a Barry challenge that took ball and man, was the danger man to City's defence and Joleon Lescott did well to block him as early as the 11th minute when the Wigan striker threatened.
That said, City had the finer moments but against a defence determined to operate in numbers, the Blues' attempts to pass their way into the six-yard box were overwhelmed by sheer weight of opposition players.
Barry and Silva worked an opening with nifty footwork only for both men to neglect to shoot, and while Balotelli linked up well enough with his busy skipper, they too found it impossible to break the deadlock.
Not so Silva, who was in the mood after that venomous FA Cup strike against Aston Villa and drilled a similarly powerful low shot just past the far post with 23 minutes on the clock.
While off target, it was arguably a better attempt than the regulation one he launched in the 38th minute and which Al Habsi should have saved but allowed through his hands and his legs for the ball to trickle over the line.
Silva had created the opening in typical fashion, however, with a pair of the quickest feet in the Premier League and an awareness and balance that has made him so indispensable to City's bid for success
Wigan did not give up the ghost in the second half. Far from it, and lively defender Antolin Alcaraz was inches from an equaliser when he hit the outside of a post from a corner four minutes after the restart.
James McCarthy was next in line with a cracking effort that saw Joe Hart rise to the occasion for the save of the game, and the home fans became restless as Wigan continued to look at least as good as their rivals.
Mancini threw on Aleks Kolarov and Edin Dzeko in the latter stages, substitutes of the highest quality to ensure that the Blues could see out their victory and pocket three points without being anywhere near their best.
Even then, substitute Conor Sammon had hearts in mouths with a low shot that scraped Hart's far post deep into time added on.