However, Saints gave as good as they got for the vast majority of the 90 minutes, with manager Ralph Hasenhuttl having been left with plenty of positives to reflect on from his team’s performance.
A slick move from the Citizens on 15 minutes saw Raheem Sterling convert Kevin De Bruyne’s low cross proved the difference as Pep Guardiola’s men left with a 1-0 victory.
The Saints pressed City well inside the first ten minutes, turning the ball over a couple of times inside their own half, although their best opening, when Danny Ings slipped Moussa Djenepo into space down the left in the fifth minute, ended with his shot being scuffed and Kyle Walker diverting it behind.
After that opening spell, though, the visitors claimed the ascendancy. Sterling fired over from outside the box on 11 minutes, before Jannik Vestergaard deflected a De Bruyne shot behind shortly after.
Alex McCarthy then had to produce a diving save to deny Joao Cancelo, who fired in a well-struck effort from distance as pressure began to mount.
City did not have to wait much longer for the breakthrough, though, as they broke the deadlock in the 16th minute. De Bruyne was the creator, getting away down the right before the Belgian picked out Sterling in a central position and the England international swept home from about twelve yards out.
Saints issued a positive response though – which was also the reaction from the 2,000 fans inside St. Marys as the hosts restarted – and they threatened to level after 21 minutes.
The hosts then went close to opening up City two minutes later, as Kyle Walker-Peters clipped a ball to the back post, where Che Adams was in space, but he attempted to square it back across goal when a first time shot may have been a better option and the chance was gone.
Ings then headed wide of the near post after good work from Walcott, before Vestergaard saw his header from James Ward-Prowse’s corner kept out by Ederson. Walcott then curled in a cross from the right that just eluded Adams, with John Stones heading the ball inches wide of his own post.
There was certainly reason to be upbeat for the Saints at this point, but there were two bits of bad news to come before the break. First, Oriol Romeu was cautioned by Mike Dean, resulting in his fifth yellow card of the season and earning him a one-match ban. Secondly, Ings went down with injury, with Hasenhuttl sending on Nathan Tella to replace him.
It was City who were straight on the front foot after the break, as Ferran Torres found space down the right and sent a shot across goal that had McCarthy at full stretch but it went just wide.
And the visitors should have doubled their advantage after 53 minutes, as Sterling released De Bruyne down the left. He squared the ball for Bernardo Silva on the edge of the area, only for him to take one touch too many and scuff his subsequent shot, allowing McCarthy to make the save.
Nathan Redmond came off the bench and was straight into the action, forcing Ederson into a low save before attempting to get on the end of a Walcott cross, only to miss his effort on the stretch.
The Saints again went close to equalising when Walker-Peters found Tella down the right, with his low cross towards Adams being diverted by a sliding Stones, meaning the striker only had enough of an angle to head wide having chased the ball down.
City spur late chance
At the other end, McCarthy then did brilliantly to tip Ilkay Gundogan’s strike from 25 yards wide of the post before City should have sealed the game late on. Riyad Mahrez was unmarked after Silva’s chip to the back post had picked him out, but the substitute could only side-foot over the bar.
The miss didn’t affect the final outcome, however, as Saints ended the afternoon with a performance to be pleased with, but no points to show for it.