A vital victory that was thrown into doubt by their visitors' late resurgence puts City five points above Southampton, edging them away from relegation.
The match that Alan Ball had described as the most important since his arrival at Maine Road began with his present side looking less than secure against his old team. In the opening minutes their defence seemed intent on getting all their mistakes out of the way before Southampton were sufficiently warmed up to take advantage.
When City settled to their task it was their gifted Georgian Kinkladze who posed the threat. His 14th-minute shot from well outside the area had Dave Beasant hopelessly beaten but came back off the crossbar.
Within a minute, Kinkladze was fending the ball with the outside of his boot to send Michael Frontzeck clear down the left, but the opening was wasted with a poor cross. With Nigel Clough also contributing some educated touches Southampton were under increasing pressure, with Beasant having to get down swiftly to beat Nicky Summerbee's drive around his post.
A goal was on its way and it duly arrived after 32 minutes, Summerbee threading a precise ball into the path of Clough, whose shot was too strong for Beasant to hold. Kinkladze followed up to tap the rebound into an empty net; not the most spectacular goal he will score for City, but one of the most significant.
Kinkladze's second goal six minutes later was both significant and stunning. Taking the ball 30 yards out with no obvious avenues open, he beat Simon Charlton and shimmied around three other baffled Southampton defenders to chip past Beasant.
Kinkladze continued his master class into the second half, with a glorious pass to Summerbee and a break that released Uwe Rosler, only for a touch- and-go offside decision to intervene.
There were times when the Georgian's high level of skill seemed to be contagious, especially when Ian Brightwell's flick to Frontzeck launched a mesmerising attack.
So far had Southampton slipped off the pace since City had given them early encouragement that a stooping header from Matthew Le Tissier, going just wide of the post after 62 minutes, was their first genuine chance. They scored from their second, two minutes later, when substitute Gordon Watson ran half the length of the field and rolled his pass for Paul Tisdale to lift the ball over Eike Immel.
That made the final quarter more nerve-racking than it should have been for City, although they could have banished all doubt when a lightning raid by Kinkladze - who else? - created an opportunity that both Rosler and Niall Quinn spurned.
David Hughes almost punished City with an acrobatic effort over the bar. There was a worse moment when Matthew Robinson netted in the last minute, but the flag had long been raised for offside. Watson was sent off for arguing and City clung to their three points.