James Milner's late strike rescues a point for City but valuable ground lost in the title race
Substitute James Milner struck a superb injury-time free-kick as lacklustre champions Manchester City rescued a point with a 1-1 draw against Hull.
City looked to be heading to a potentially damaging defeat in their Barclays Premier League title chase after David Meyler struck for relegation battlers Hull after 35 minutes at the Etihad Stadium.
But after a dismal first-half display, City showed greater urgency after the break and had a justifiable penalty appeal turned down and hit the woodwork before Milner struck.
Milner, who is out of contract in the summer, curled home from the edge of the area for a goal that underlines his enduring value to manager Manuel Pellegrini.
City can argue it was the least their efforts deserved after dominating possession but Hull will feel unlucky having got so close to giving their survival push an unlikely but much-needed shot in the arm.
Their wait for a first win since New Year's Day goes on but manager Steve Bruce will at least be encouraged.
But despite the positive finish, the result still saw City slip seven points behind leaders Chelsea.
The return of Yaya Toure clearly cannot come quickly enough. City have now played six matches without their powerhouse midfielder this season and not won any of them.
Hull had the first opportunity of the game when Robbie Brady slipped a ball through to Sone Aluko but Joe Hart dealt comfortably with his shot.
City lacked inspiration throughout the first half with their ponderous build-up play lacking any penetration. Edin Dzeko did get his head to a cross but Allan McGregor was not troubled in the Hull goal.
Hull sounded the alarm bells after 17 minutes when the impressive Brady whipped in a cross from the left and Ahmed Elmohamady charged in at the back post to thump a header against the post.
Samir Nasri did have a shot blocked as City looked to make inroads but Hull contained them all too easily, a point underlined when Fernandinho was pushed off the ball by Jake Livermore.
Livermore was heavily involved as Hull pounced on some calamitous City defending to seize the lead after 35 minutes.
Hart came out to clear when Martin Demichelis hesitated but only found Livermore and had to save his quickfire shot. Pablo Zabaleta then had a chance to clear but Gaston Ramirez nipped in and fired a shot against the post. This time there was no City player nearby and Meyler reacted quickest to tuck home the rebound.
It might have got worse for City before the break as they failed to clear a Tom Huddlestone free-kick and the ball fell invitingly for Aluko, but he blazed over.
Pellegrini made a change at the break by sending on pacy winger Jesus Navas for the ineffective Fernando.
The hosts started the second half better with Dzeko finally extending McGregor as he met a cross from Zabaleta with a snap-shot.
David Silva then had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Jonathan Moss following a challenge in the back by Alex Bruce.
James Milner came on for Dzeko as City continued to look for openings but, despite improved possession, their efforts met with frustration.
Milner did win a free-kick just outside the box but Nasri delivered it straight into the arms of McGregor.
Stevan Jovetic, left out of City's Champions League squad this week to make way for new signing Wilfried Bony, came on to try to rescue the situation with 16 minutes to go.
Bruce responded by sending on his deadline-day signing Dame N'Doye.
City enjoyed a stranglehold on possession in the closing stages but their luck did not look like turning.
Aguero brilliantly controlled a Nasri cross with 89 minutes on the clock but his deft shot rebounded off the bar.
It seemed time might be up but Milner, as the game headed into four minutes of injury time, bent a perfect free-kick around the wall after Aguero was felled by Huddlestone.