Manchester City coach David Platt has said that he feels Mario Balotelli is finally learning from the tough lessons that have come his way in England.
Balotelli returned from a four-match domestic suspension - his fourth since arriving at City in 2010 - and scored the opening goal in City's 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. The Italy international, 21, is a regular in the gossip columns and has received as much attention for his off-field exploits as his performances for City.
However, City felt it was wrong for Balotelli to be given his latest suspension, for an alleged stamp on Tottenham Hotspur's Scott Parker in the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium in January. And despite receiving several over-zealous challenges in the Blackburn game, Platt was pleased with the way the striker, who unveiled a t-shirt expressing his love for his girlfriend after scoring, took the punishment.
Platt said: "All players flash T-shirts and it doesn't necessarily make them flamboyant. He was disciplined, his work-rate was exceptional on and off the ball and his temperament was exceptional. When a team defends deep against you have to give the ball to people that are marked and closely guarded and there are going to be kicks but you never thought there was going to be a reaction."
City have now fired in 40 goals on the way to 13 consecutive home wins in the Premier League this season and they head in to March at the top of the table. However, Platt has warned his team not to expect to be expansive and free-scoring all the way to the end of the season.
"You can't go 38 games and play the kind of football we were playing at the start of the season," added Platt. "There are always games you have to grind out. We did that at QPR and that was in the middle of the run when people were saying we played exceptionally well.
"We've got a dozen games left in the league and there will be a mixture. There will be games when we won't be as fluid as we can be but can get the results. There's a belief that we can go into games and win games because that's what we've done all season and what's got us where we are. We have to continued that and show that consistency for the final third and if we do that well be there or thereabouts."
Yaya Toure was set for further assessment on Sunday after picking up a muscular problem on Saturday. Balotelli scored the first goal from close range, Sergio Aguero doubled the advantage after half-time and Edin Dzeko headed in a third in the closing stages as Blackburn slipped into the bottom three.
Rovers manager Steve Kean set his team up defensively, even when they were behind at the Etihad Stadium. However, he claimed that Blackburn's win at Manchester United and draw at Liverpool show that they can cause the best teams problems on their own grounds.
"The defensive organisation wasn't the problem," Kean said. "When we got the ball back we didn't keep it. We very quickly gave it away and never got up the pitch enough to trouble Joe Hart.
"You can go to games at big clubs, like we did against United and Liverpool, and even though you might only have a small amount of possession, cause problems. But it's the depth of the squad, they can rotate and bring in quality. The games we've got coming up, against Villa, Bolton and Wigan, teams in and around us, make it a massive month. We just have to move on."