For 20 minutes after Conor Coady had netted his first Premier League goal to bring his team level at the Etihad Stadium, Wolves had the runaway league leaders rattled and their 20-match winning run looked in danger.
Three goals in the final 10 minutes, two from Gabriel Jesus and one from Riyad Mahrez eventually secured win No.21 on the spin for Pep Guardiola’s team and Wolves’ trouble, when assessing the whole piece, was only turning up for the final third of it.
Coady scored with their first touch inside the City box in the 61st minute. Prior to then Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio had been performing a stunning solo act, denying Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Mahrez to ensure Leander Dendoncker’s 15th minute own goal remained the only difference between the teams.
Nuno will have taken heart from the final half-hour but his team’s lack of intent prior to then was disappointing and puzzling. Much like the season in general, there was the sense an opportunity had been missed. Only when Fabio Silva was introduced to give Wolves a presence up front, 10 minutes into the second half, did they begin to ask any serious questions of the City defence.
Nuno’s men will make the short trip to Villa on Saturday needing to win to ensure there is still something tangible to play for over the season’s final 10 matches.
The scale of the task facing Wolves against Europe’s most in-form team, if not already clear, certainly was when the team sheets were submitted.
City boss Pep Guardiola made six changes to the team which recorded win number 20 by beating West Ham on Saturday and it arguably made his starting XI stronger, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Aymeric Laporte, Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo all coming back into the line-up.
Nuno, by contrast, made just one change to the XI which started at Newcastle, striker Willian Jose sacrificed in favour of adding reserves to the defence in the shape of Ki-Jana Hoever.
In theory the formation still featured three forwards with Nelson Semedo pressed into an attacking role on the right wing. Yet such was City’s dominance in the opening half the Brazilian was frequently forced to operate as a second right-back.
The tone was set inside the first two minutes. Joao Cancelo found Sterling with an excellent pass in off the wing and Patricio needed to be quick off his line to make the save.
City were pushing and probing and Wolves sat deep but the hosts were being given no shortage of encouragement by the visitors’ tendency to play their way into trouble.
Romain Saiss was the first defender to be left breathing a sigh of relief when, with Wolves attempting to pass their way out from the back, he was robbed by Riyah Mahrez on the edge of his own box. The ball ran to Kevin De Bruyne, whose shot took a nick off Dendoncker before flying wide of goal.
Dendoncker was the next man to give the ball away, while running toward his own goal. Again the danger was just about snuffed out.
But a breakthrough seemed inevitable and duly arrived on 15 minutes. Rodri was the architect, lofting a pass down the right over Jonny for Mahrez to race onto. His cross looked destined to be tapped in by Sterling at the far post only for Dendoncker, diving in vainly, to do the job anyway.
City didn’t exactly go for the jugular after that but such was Wolves’ lack of intent, they didn’t really need to.
The threat posed by the visitors was summed up just prior to the half-hour mark when Hoever found himself in space down the right but sent his cross 10 yards over the bar and into the stand.
All City had to do was sit back and wait for the mistakes. Neto played a blind pass back toward his own goal and set Mahrez away, with the shot being blocked behind.
Aymeric Laporte thought he had doubled City’s lead on the stroke of half-time only for a VAR check to confirm he had been millimetres offside when tapping home at the far post, after Bernardo Silva had flicked on a Mahrez cross.
Fittingly, the half ended as it had begun, with Patricio making a fine save. This one was particularly impressive, the Portugal international diving across goal and getting a hand to Silva’s header after Gabriel Jesus had seen a shot blocked. Silva looked to the heavens, perhaps unable to believe his countryman’s reflexes, more likely because he had also blasted the rebound over the bar.
Patricio pulled off an even better save in the opening five minutes of the second half, getting down low to his left and getting fingertips to De Bruyne’s drive round the post.
The Wolves keeper was starting to compile quite the showreel, with Mahrez the next man to be left cursing his agility as another well-struck shot was pushed off target.
Those saves took on a greater significance when, from nowhere, Wolves drew level.
Rodri clumsily challenged Moutinho 25 yards out and when the latter delivered the free-kick, Coady sent a diving header into the bottom corner.
Stung, City looked to restore their lead quickly but Patricio remained inspired, this time sticking out a leg to send Jesus’ shot wide.
Coady’s goal had completely transformed the game with Wolves now a threat on the counter. Traore finally had a chance to stretch the home defence, hitting a shot which Ruben Dias deflected over the bar. The Spanish winger then should have done better than fire hurriedly over after Neto saw a shot blocked when Wolves broke with a man advantage.
City, meanwhile, were trying everything. Sterling flicked a Mahrez cross inches wide of the far post before shaving the other upright with a curling effort.
A grandstand finish looked in prospect until with 10 minutes remaining Jesus restored City’s lead, thumping home from close range after a fizzing Kyle Walker cross hit the heel of Dendoncker and sat up perfectly.
Mahrez added the third following a mistake by substitute Owen Otasowie in the 90th minute, before Jesus got his second, tapping home after Patricio had saved from Gundogan, the goal being restored by VAR after initially being flagged offside.
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodrigo, Silva (Gundogan 82), Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling Subs not used: Stones, Aguero, Zinchenko, Torres, Fernandinho, Foden, Garcia, Steffen (gk).
Wolves (3-5-2): Patricio, Hoever, Coady, Saiss, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neves (Otasowie 90), Jonny (Silva 55), Traore, Neto Subs not used: Ait-Nouri, Jose, Boly, Gibbs-White, Vitinha, Kilman, Ruddy (gk).