Pep Guardiola admitted Manchester City must find "momentum" in front of goal if they are to challenge Liverpool for the Premier League title after grinding out a 1-0 win at third-placed Southampton.
City slipped to 11 points behind leaders Liverpool prior to kick-off, albeit with two games in hand on the champions, and once again had to rely on a solid defensive display to edge up to fifth in the table thanks to a seventh clean sheet in eight games.
"We don't have our momentum to score goals," said Guardiola, after his side failed to score more than once for the ninth time in 13 league games this season.
"We have to accept it, but we have to survive now being solid and put our desire and our heart into the rest."
Guardiola's men were again guilty of not being ruthless enough in front of goal with the few chances they did create, but one moment of quality that saw Kevin De Bruyne tee up Raheem Sterling for the only goal which separated the sides.
Liverpool thrashed Crystal Palace 7-0 away earlier on Saturday after beating Tottenham in a top-of-the-table clash on Wednesday.
And Guardiola insisted City have a long way to go to challenge Jurgen Klopp's men for the title.
"We are far away, look at the table, it's a lot of points," he added on the eight-point gap between the sides. "They still have momentum in terms of goals.
"I saw their game against Tottenham, how well they play. It's no secret how good they are but I told the guys 'forget about it'. We were ninth in the table, think about eighth, then seventh, then Europa League, then Champions League."
Southampton had lost just once in their previous 10 league games to start the day four points and six places ahead of their illustrious visitors.
But the loss of top scorer Danny Ings on top of the defeat dealt a blow to their quest to qualify for Europe.
"I think it was a top game for the Premier League," said Southampton boss Ralph Hassenhuttl.
"We played a better game than when we beat them in the summer. This time they scored and we didn't."
In a bright City start, Joao Cancelo forced Alex McCarthy into a flying save and Rodri saw an effort ruled out for offside before the only goal arrived on 16 minutes.
Southampton's daring approach to press high backfired as it afforded City the chance to counter-attack that very few sides offer Guardiola's men.
Bernardo Silva fed De Bruyne down the right and his inch-perfect cross was swept home by Sterling for his seventh goal of the season.
Southampton, though, reacted well to falling behind as Theo Walcott forced Ederson into his first save of the day.
Jannik Vestergaard's threat from set-pieces has been a big part in Southampton's success this season and twice the giant Dane will feel he should have done better as his first weak header was easily claimed by Ederson before his second more powerful attempt flew over the bar.
The home side suffered a major blow just before the break when Ings had to be replaced with a muscle injury.
City soaked up plenty of pressure from the Saints in the second half, but again lacked the killer instinct up front to kill the game off.
Ferran Torres flashed an effort across goal before Silva should have provided the finish Sterling did to another brilliant De Bruyne cross.
De Bruyne was also guilty of not taking a big chance on the counter-attack when he fired too close to McCarthy and the Southampton 'keeper than made an incredible save high to his right to deny Ilkay Gundogan.
But one goal this time was enough for a vital three points to keep City in the title race.