Milan coach Clarence Seedorf has been under scrutiny and was looking for a morale-boosting performance ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 clash on Wednesday.
Instead, the 37-year-old Dutchman was witness to a mediocre display against a Bologna side that defended in numbers and came close to breaking the deadlock several times at the end of counter-attacking moves.
After applauding Balotelli's wonder strike, Seedorf told Sky Sport Italia: "It wasn't easy to play well against a team that was defending so low for nearly 90 minutes.
"But we had plenty of belief and Mario showed the champion he is tonight."
Seedorf eventually opted to shake things up when he replaced Japan international forward Keisuke Honda with striker Giampaolo Pazzini, who added some extra fizz to Milan's flat attack when he came on 20 minutes into the second half.
Pazzini had replaced Balotelli in last week's 3-1 defeat to Napoli which left the Italy striker in tears on the substitutes' bench.
The energetic striker came close to helping Milan break the deadlock when he crossed for Kaka as the Brazilian burst into a crowded area, only to stumble into the goal as the ball was cleared to safety.
But four minutes from time Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo spotted Balotelli in space and the striker had time to look up and see Gianluca Curci off his line before hitting a rocket that the 'keeper scrambled in vain to keep out the net.
Italian television pictures claimed Balotelli hit the angled strike from 39 metres and the striker said: "I looked up and saw the 'keeper off his line, so thought I'd have a go. Thankfully, it went in."
Seedorf's third win in five games as Milan coach moved the Rossoneri up one place to tenth ahead of the rest of the weekend games.
Champions Juventus, who host Chievo on Sunday, hold a nine-point lead over Roma, who have a game in hand, ahead of their Sunday meeting with Sampdoria.