Match analysis: Manchester City 2 Blackburn Rovers 2
BLACKBURN Rovers became the first away side to take a point at Eastlands this season thanks to a belated Christmas present from Roque Santa Cruz.
Mark Hughes' side appeared to be heading for a fifth straight defeat until the Paraguayan grabbed his second equaliser of the night in highly controversial circumstances seven minutes from time.
And Rovers, who were outclassed for large periods of the first half, might even have snatched an unlikely winner during a nail-biting finale as Manchester City's perfect home record came grinding to a halt.
However, the real talking point was unquestionably Santa Cruz's 83rd minute equaliser, which initially appeared to have been ruled out for offside.
Assistant referee Darren Cann raised his flag, believing David Dunn, who was standing in an offside position, had got the decisive touch on David Bentley's right-wing centre.
But, after a brief consultation with referee Howard Webb, Mr Cann then changed his mind, insisting he had raised his flag too early.
It was a huge decision but, much to Hughes' relief, the official had the courage of his convictions and the goal was allowed to stand.
Unsurprisingly, City were up in arms afterwards, claiming they were the victims of a great injustice.
But, having been on the wrong end of some poor decisions himself this season, Hughes made no apologies for the stroke of good fortune afterwards, insisting his players deserved a point for a spirited second half fightback.
The Rovers boss said: "In the first half, we never laid a glove on City in fairness.
"They played around us and we never got close to people, and never dictated to City in any way, shape or form.
"In the second half, we needed a response and I thought we were excellent in that respect.
"I thought we took the game to them and I felt towards the end there was only one team who looked like winning the game.
"We got the equaliser and if we'd played on for another 10 or 15 minutes we probably would have won the game."
In truth, Rovers could have been dead and buried by half-time as Martin Petrov threatened to run riot.
Up against Zurab Khizanishvili, who was pressed into service as an emergency right-back, Petrov had a field day, creating both of City's goals, either side of Santa Cruz's first equaliser.
But, revved up by a half-time pep talk from Hughes, Rovers regrouped and put up more of a fight in the second half, eventually grabbing their reward courtesy of the in-form Santa Cruz, who has now scored seven goals in his last four appearances.
At least this time his goals actually counted for something.
The game exploded into life in truly spectacular style with three goals in as many minutes midway through the first half.
The warnings signs were flashing for Rovers in the 21st minute, when Petrov skipped past Khizanishvili and raced to the touchline before delivering a low cross into the centre, where Rolando Bianchi was lurking.
However, unmarked and only two yards out, the Italian somehow failed to make a proper connection with an attempted side-foot finish and the chance went begging.
It was an astonishing miss.
If that was a let-off then Rovers weren't so lucky six minutes later when they were ripped open once again by a carbon copy move.
Sensing Rovers' vulnerability down the left, Bianchi lifted a clever ball over the top for Petrov, who once again had the legs on Khizanishvili.
Aside from being lightning quick, Petrov is also blessed with great vision, a quality he ably demonstrated when clipping a cross to the far post for Darius Vassell to power home a header: 1-0.
For the ninth successive game, Rovers found themselves a goal down, and facing another mountain to climb.
However, rather than let their heads drop, they conjured up the perfect response by restoring parity within 90 seconds.
David Bentley, who was an effervescent force throughout, whipped over one of his trademark free kick's from the left and Roque Santa Cruz attacked the near post with real purpose, darting in front of Micah Richards to score with a glancing header: 1-1.
The visiting fans were still celebrating when City regained the lead barely a minute later.
Once again, Khizanishvili was cruelly exposed by the marauding Petrov, who left the Georgian standing in another foot race.
Samba tried to get across and avert the danger but he, too, was left trailing in the Bulgarian's wake.
After making his way to the touchline, Petrov then delivered a low cross to the near post, which Nelsen tried to intercept but only succeeded in diverting the ball into his own net: 2-1.
That goal visibly knocked the stuffing out of Rovers and they were glad to hear the half-time whistle.
Hughes, no doubt, had some strong words to say to his players during the interval, and it was no surprise to see Khizanishvili withdrawn as part of a tactical reshuffle.
But then a breakdown in communication between Brett Emerton, his replacement at right-back, and Bentley almost led to a third goal for City four minutes into the second half.
Once again, Petrov was the beneficiary but this time his teasing low cross just evaded the sliding Bianchi, who was straining every sinew in his attempts to convert it at the far post.
But in the closing stages, Rovers suddenly found their second wind and grabbed the equaliser.
Once again, Bentley was the provider, delivering a cross from the right, and Santa Cruz escaped his marker at the near post to score with another header: 2-2.
In a frantic finale, Rovers might even have snatched all three points.
In the end, though, they were more than content with just one.