Micah Richards and Mario Balotelli earn Roberto Mancini praise

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini praised Micah Richards after the full-back made a telling contribution to his team's 3-1 win over Newcastle United.

He scored one and was brought down for a penalty as City maintained their lead at the top of the Premier League.

The display comes after he was left out of the England squad for last week's friendly wins over Spain and Sweden.

"I love Micah Richards as a guy and a player," said Mancini. "I'd like it if he plays always like he did today."

Sergio Aguero scored from the spot after Richards was fouled by Hatem Ben Arfa, Mario Balotelli having opened the scoring with another penalty after Ryan Taylor had handled.

Mancini made special mention of his 21-year-old Italian striker, who also received praise from Italy coach Cesare Prandelli during the week.

"The penalty from Mario was fabulous," Mancini said. "It is impossible for him to miss one penalty - I don't know why.

"I'm just helping him not to waste his talent and to make sure he becomes the player he can become. The rest is down to him and he is doing very well."

City have now won 11 of their 12 league game this season, and hold a five-point lead above second-placed Manchester United.

But Mancini said his team rode their luck at the Etihad, and said they must improve when they resume their Champions League campaign at Napoli on Wednesday.

"I told the guys it would be a difficult game because Newcastle are a strong team and they have good players," Mancini added.

"We had a lot of ball possession, we scored three goals and we had other chances, but I think in some moments we were also lucky.

"The feeling is good because our team has improved a lot, also in the Champions League. But I know what we can find in Naples, they are playing very well at home and if we want to win we should play better than this afternoon."

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was frustrated as his side had only a Dan Gosling consolation goal to show, and lost an unbeaten league run that had stretched to 11 games before defeat at Etihad Stadium.

The Newcastle manager rued the chances his team had missed while the scoreline was still goalless but said City were easily the best team the Magpies had faced this season.

"I thought we had situations in the game where it could have been a different afternoon," he said. "Certainly the chance that Demba Ba created and the corner - we had two big chances at 0-0.

"When you play a side as powerful as Manchester City, you need to take your chances and you need breaks to go your way and I don't think we had any breaks in the game.

"I thought we were doing well in the game in both situations when the penalties arrived. For the second one, we had our centre-half [Steven Taylor] having his nose repaired on the side of the pitch and Hatem Ben Arfa in a position he would not normally be in and it cost us the goal.

"It sort of summed it up, I thought."

Despite the defeat, Pardew was pleased to see Ben Arfa, 24, return for his first league start of the season, just over a year after he suffered a broken leg on the same ground.

"The ideas that some of Manchester City players present you with and their flair makes it very difficult for your defenders and I thought Hatem was on that level today," Pardew added.

"He created one or two things, he burst away from players and kept possession, and to think only a year ago he had that terrible injury you have to say it was really grand performance by him and he should be proud of that."