Edin Dzeko's first-half header lifted Manchester City three points clear at the top of the Premier League as the leaders swapped flair for functionality in a gritty 1-0 win at bottom club Wigan Athletic on Monday.
It was not pretty and did not produce the sackful of goals City have often managed this season but three points from a scrappy game at a cold and sparse DW Stadium are exactly what teams eke out on their way to championships.
"This evening it was important to take three points, I think that we played well in the first half an hour and after (that) so-so," City manager Roberto Mancini told a news conference.
"We had three or four incredible chances to score the second goal but we didn't score ... in this moment it is important to get three points, this month it is important to do the maximum points we can get."
City, who had been suffering a blip since the start of the new year with one win and three defeats in all competitions, knew they could not afford a slip-up after Manchester United pulled level with them on points on Saturday.
After dominating possession with their trademark swift passing, City's breakthrough came in the 22nd minute when David Silva floated in a free kick that the towering Dzeko nodded past Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi.
Silva returned from the ankle injury that kept him out of last week's 1-0 defeat by Liverpool in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final and a little of the dynamism that has torn apart so many teams also came back, in the first half at least.
Wigan, though, had their chances against a City defence missing suspended Vincent Kompany but anything they engineered, such as two long-range shots by James McArthur, was more opportunistic than some of the slick moves crafted by their opponents.
The hosts started the second half brightly before City rediscovered their rhythm and should have scored when Sergio Aguero did all the hard work by dribbling past several Wigan players and the keeper only for Dzeko to fluff his shot.
Silva was then denied by Al Habsi's quick reflexes and City keeper Joe Hart dived well to block James McCarthy's low shot as a spirited Wigan sensed they could still snatch something.
City manager Roberto Mancini was literally hopping mad shortly before the end when Wigan's Maynor Figueroa handled the ball near the halfway line when he was the last man, denying Aguero from running clear through on goal.
Having accused Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney of encouraging the referee to send off Kompany in their FA Cup meeting earlier this month, Mancini adopted a similar approach over Figueroa by waving an imaginary card in the air.
Asked if he felt the Honduran left back should have been shown a red card rather than the yellow he received, Mancini replied: "Next question, please."
He said it was perfectly "normal" to react as he had done to the incident and said it was different for a manager to act that way compared to a player.
"I am on the bench, it's different from one player that is near the referee," he said.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, whose side are rooted to the bottom of the table with 15 points and who have not won at home since August 27, denied a red card should have been shown.
"I don't think it was a goal-scoring opportunity," he told a news conference.
City moved on to 51 points from 21 games, three ahead of champions Manchester United. Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who visit City on Sunday, are a further two points behind.
Mancini was hoping striker Mario Balotelli and defender Micah Richards, who missed the short journey to Wigan with minor injuries, would be back in time for that game against Spurs.
He will also be hoping Silva, the inspiration behind so many of City's moves up the field before he was taken off in the second half, will be back to full fitness soon.
"David is an important player for us but he is not 100 percent, he was tired after 55/60 minutes," Mancini said.