Despite being without star striker Wayne Rooney, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, United looked like grabbing a sixth straight win when Portugal winger Nani opened the scoring in the 27th minute.
However, England striker Peter Crouch stopped the United juggernaut by equalising with a powerful header 12 minutes after half-time, his first goal for Stoke since joining for a club record £10 million (US$15.5 million) ontransfer deadline day.
United are now only first on goal difference from City, who needed second-half goals by substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner to earn a 2-0 win over Everton.
Chelsea are three points further back after beating visiting Swansea 4-1, with Spain striker Fernando Torres scoring for the second straight game but then getting sent off for the hosts.
Demba Ba grabbed a hat-trick for Newcastle in a 3-1 home win over Blackburn, consolidating fourth position for the in-form northeast club, while Liverpool climbed to fifth by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 at Anfield – the team’s first win in three league games.
Resurgent Tottenham beat Wigan 2-1 away to claim a third straight win while Netherlands striker Robin van Persie scored twice for Arsenal – his second the 100th for the club – in a 3-0 victory over Bolton that eased the pressure on under-fire manager Arsene Wenger.
In the day’s other match, Fulham held West Bromwich Albion to a 0-0 draw in a game between two of the division’s bottom four.
Growing injury list
United didn’t just drop their first points of the campaign, they also saw Mexico striker Javier Hernandez limp off in the 10th minute, while centreback Jonny Evans hurt himself in the warm-up to join an injury list that already includes Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and now Rooney.
Nani put United ahead by exchanging passes with Darren Fletcher before placing a low, left-foot shot into the bottom corner, but the visitors only went into half-time on level terms thanks to good saves by David de Gea from Crouch, Andy Wilkinson and Jon Walters.
The Spanish goalkeeper could do nothing about Crouch’s equaliser as United joined Liverpool and Chelsea in failing to beat Stoke at the Britannia Stadium this season.
“We worked so hard. I’ve never known team spirit like it,” Crouch said.
City’s victory ended a run of four straight home defeats to Everton, who have been a bogey team for Roberto Mancini’s side in recent years and proved a stubborn opponent before Balotelli’s deflected goal from the edge of the area.