Mihajlovic said: "He was taken off because he is 17 years old and still learning the game. The opposition wanted to provoke him and get him booked.
"I don't think this is right but these things happen on the pitch. When I was a player I did the same with my younger opponents.
"Mario is a fair player and he never provokes his opponents. But he was on a warning and we didn't want to risk losing him for the next games. He's very important for us."
Asked about Balotelli's ability from set-pieces, Mihajlovic smiled: "He's good ... but not as good as me! He has room for improvement, not just in free-kick taking."