By Phil McNultyChief football writer at Etihad Stadium
Mario Balotelli's injury-time penalty gave Premier League leaders Manchester City a vital victory after Tottenham's stirring comeback looked set to earn them a point at Etihad Stadium.
City set the platform for a win early in the second half with two quick goals from Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott - but Spurs delivered a devastating response as an opportunist goal from Jermain Defoe and a magnificent strike from Gareth Bale drew them level in a burst of four goals in nine minutes.
Balotelli emerged from the bench and into the chaos that seems to be his constant companion - picking up a booking for a foul on Benoit Assou-Ekotto then escaping punishment after appearing to stamp on Scott Parker, an incident which went undetected by referee Howard Webb.
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Defoe was then inches away from putting Spurs back in front in stoppage time before Italian Balotelli was inevitably the central figure in the final twist that ensured Roberto Mancini's side maintained the gap ahead of their pursuers at the top of the table.
Spurs' backroom staff were enraged by Balotelli's clash with Parker and their burning sense of injustice would have been made even more acute when he calmly strode forward to score from the spot with only seconds remaining after he had been hauled down by Ledley King.
The visitors clearly felt he should not even have been on the pitch, adding to their frustration after they had demonstrated considerable character and resilience to fight their way back into the game.
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City boss Mancini will have had mixed emotions - delight at a crucial three points but also anxiety at the manner in which his side allowed Spurs back into the game.
Defoe, as expected, was Redknapp's selection in attack ahead of Emmanuel Adebayor, who was unable to figure against City, his parent club, during his season-long loan period.
In a first half that was fiercely contested, the only striker who got the chance to shine was City's Sergio Aguero as Spurs outnumbered City in midfield and contained the league leaders in relative comfort.
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The Argentine saw his goalbound shot inadvertently blocked by Edin Dzeko, then demonstrated great strength and awareness to hold off Younes Kaboul and find David Silva, who dragged his shot just wide.
Aguero was frustrated by Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel after Richards forced his way into area - but there was still no indication of the torrent of goals that were to hit the Etihad after the break.
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The first came after 56 minutes when Silva, with trademark creation, threaded a pass through for Nasri to thump a finish past Friedel. And when Lescott bundled home Dzeko's flick from a Nasri corner three minutes later, City could see daylight.
Not for long, however, as Spurs were back in business within seconds as the hour approached. Stefan Savic failed miserably in his attempt to deal with a clearance, heading straight to Defoe, who accepted the gift with relish as he rounded City keeper Joe Hart to score.
City's fans had gone from elation to anxiety, but Dzeko should have eased their concerns when he was played in by Silva. The Bosnian never looked convincing as he lashed his effort way over the top.
Bale showed no such uncertainty when he put Spurs level in spectacular style after 65 minutes. He took Aaron Lennon's pass and clipped a finish that possessed pace, power and precision high into the top corner beyond Hart, who had no chance.
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City had introduced Balotelli for Dzeko, but his first meaningful contribution was to pick up a yellow card from referee Webb for a foul on Assou-Ekotto.
The coming together with Parker that provided a major talking point followed soon after, before a thrilling second half received the climax it deserved.
Defoe could not stretch far enough to turn Bale's cross into an open goal - leaving the stage clear for the turbulent Balotelli to write another chapter into his eventful Manchester City story.
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