Boro were floored by first-half strikes from a Uwe Rosler 17th-minute penalty after Phil Stamp brought down Craig Russell - it was the German's first goal since the opening game of the season - and Paul Dickov's shot from six yards, set up by Georgi Kinkladze.
"I was disappointed with the way we started," the Boro manager, Bryan Robson, said. "The game was won and lost in the first 20 minutes. All credit to Manchester City, they flew out of the blocks and really got about us. We did not match them for fight. I hope it will be a kick up the backside for us."
If Boro look behind them in anticipation of a kick they'll see second- placed Nottingham Forest, who drew level on points following their comeback against Stockport County at the City Ground. Gary Megson's side led until the 81st minute when Tony Dinning felled Andy Johnson and Pierre Van Hooijdonk fired in the penalty. Four minutes later, Steve Stone held off two County defenders to beat the advancing Eric Nixon for his first goal of the season.
"Even when we were one down and not playing particularly well, I still felt we could win the game," Dave Bassett, the confident Forest manager, said. "We needed to show a lot of patience and perseverance. We can play better - they all know that - but you can't play superbly well week in, week out."
There was little joy for the top two's closest pursuers. Sheffield United needed a Brian Deane overhead kick to salvage a point in the 1-1 draw at Bury while managerless West Brom were beaten 2-0 at home - their fourth defeat in five games - by much-improved Huddersfield, for whom Paul Dalton scored both goals.
Troubled Portsmouth went bottom after losing 2-0 at home to Charlton, whose goals came from John Robinson and Carl Leaburn. Sunderland took their unbeaten run to 12 matches with a 3-0 victory at Crewe.
At Elm Park, the referee Steve Bennett sent off Reading's Paul Bodin and Wolves' Paul Simpson in the first half as the Mark McGhee sides past and present drew 0-0. For Bodin, it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity - Gareth Davies, the former Crystal Palace centre-back on his debut, seemed to be the player who floored Robbie Keane - but there will be no reprieve for Simpson, who elbowed Phil Parkinson in the face.Reuse content