Robinho grabbed the lion's share of headlines in the Blues' long-awaited 2-1 victory at Everton, but it was a crucial tweak to the team shape that underpinned the first win away from home in England for eight months.
Unsung heroes Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany linked up in front of Richard Dunne's defence to present a formidable barrier that denied the FA Cup finalists a follow-up win after toppling Manchester United.
Manager Mark Hughes, concerned that his side can sometimes throw caution to the wind on the road to the detriment of results, adjusted the balance on Saturday to counter Everton's midfield authority.
He admitted: "At times we have been a little bit naive away from home. We are an attack-minded team, and sometimes when we put all the attacking players on the pitch maybe the defensive side of our play suffers.
"That's been the case on occasion, but when they are in full flow and the shape is correct, we look a good team. I changed it a little bit, I sat Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany from the off rather than have one sitting and one trying to put pressure on the ball.
"I had the two of them sit in front of the back four and I think it settled us down somewhat. You know they are going to hit diagonal balls into the big guys so that shield in front of the back four helped us."
Kompany dropped back to centre-half later to allow Nedum Onuoha to fill in for Micah Richards, who limped off before the hour but is expected to be available for Saturday's home clash with Hughes' old team Blackburn.
Hughes also reserved praise for striker Felipe Caicedo - "he has an awkward bustling style that upsets defenders and he put in a shift" - but it is the team reaction to the UEFA Cup exit that has cheered him most.
City's manager said: "We've got past history of just allowing seasons to dribble to a sorry conclusion. That's something that we don't want to allow and we won't allow if at all possible.
"It was a huge disappointment to go out of Europe - we won the home leg against Hamburg on a very big emotional night but going out could very easily have been the end of our season.
"But we didn't allow it to affect us and have kicked on with back-to-back wins. Now we've got an opportunity at the weekend against a team down near the bottom who are fighting for their lives, and a team I know well.
"But we are at home and it's another opportunity to get three points that will hopefully help in the push to get back into Europe."