Manuel Pellegrini was adamant Manchester City deserved their 2-1 victory over Norwich despite almost losing the Premier League leadership because of Joe Hart’s error.
Yaya Toure’s late penalty eventually kept City on top of the table following Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy’s error.
Ruddy flapped at a Jesus Navas cross, then was caught out of position as he chased the loose ball and appeared to foul Fernando before Raheem Sterling’s goalbound shot was handled by Norwich captain Russell Martin, who was sent off.
No-one celebrated Toure’s winner with more gusto than Hart, who had made his own embarrassing mistake just minutes earlier when he dropped the ball to Cameron Jerome, who fired home Norwich’s equaliser after Nicolas Otamendi’s opener.
City could have won by a greater margin, but Aleksandar Kolarov missed a second penalty with the last kick of the game after Robbie Brady brought down Sterling.
They remain in pole position, ahead of second placed Arsenal, and City boss Pellegrini was in a forgiving mood as he discussed Hart’s howler and his team’s fighting spirit.
“Joe Hart is human. Anyone can make a mistake. He made two very good saves during the match as well, because he is a very good goalkeeper,” Pellegrini said.
“Of course I think we deserved to win. We tried to score from the beginning. Norwich defended very well, and it was very difficult to create the space.
“We created three or four chances, but we scored through a beautiful goal from Otamendi.
“They drew level with what was an unlucky ball for us. It was not good play from them.
“We demonstrated character and belief in the last eight minutes.
“We scored a clear penalty and missed another. We struggled in creating space at times, but I think we deserved three points.”
Norwich manager Alex Neil told his players to cut out the individual errors after their chances of a point slipped away.
The Canaries’ fourth successive league defeat angered Neil, who was unhappy with Ruddy’s mistake and the way his team defended the corner from which Otamendi headed City’s opener.
“I think if you look at the goals we’ve been conceding, it’s been down to individuals,” Neil said.
“The players have got to be big enough and brave enough to deal with situations, and at the moment, we’re not doing that.”
Neil’s decision to play three centre-backs for the first time this season, in a 5-4-1 formation, did much to frustrate their opponents for long spells of the game.
And after going behind to Otamendi’s header, they looked as if they would save a point when Jerome tapped in following Hart’s error, only to end up losing the match.
Neil’s plan was intended to frustrate a City team who had scored 18 goals in their previous four home games.
“It’s easy to set up a team defensively,” he said. “It’s harder to set up a side who can be solid but create chances as well, which was what we were trying to do.
“Given some of the recent results they’ve had, it would have been naive to go toe to toe with them.
“The game plan was to frustrate them and try to hurt them on the counter attack.
“If you face a team with a bit of quality, and they score a great goal, you hold your hand up, but to lose a goal from a set piece because someone doesn’t pick up their man is frustrating.
“We got back into the game, but after that, it was just basic errors. That’s the bottom line. There’s nothing you can do about players making individual errors.”