AC Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic came to the defence of Keisuke Honda after the Japan international midfielder came in for criticism following Sunday’s 1-0 derby defeat to Inter Milan.

A 58th minute strike by Colombian Fredy Guarin settled what was a thrilling ‘Derby della Madonnina’ in front of 79,154 spectators at the clubs’ shared San Siro ground.

It sent Inter two points clear at the top of the table — the first time they have topped the league in three years — to boost their hopes of figuring in the scudetto battle come the end of the season.

Although Mihajlovic was buoyant in defeat, he was forced to defend Honda’s performance in the role playing behind strikers Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano.

Former AC Milan midfielder Zvonimir Boban, now a respected pundit for Sky Sport, said: “Milan didn’t play excellent football but they were better in midfield, give or take a few individual performances.

“Honda didn’t get past his man all night and (Giacomo) Bonaventura struggled to settle in midfield.”

Honda did a lot of the dirty work – Sinisa Mihajlovic

Mihajlovic, a former Inter midfielder who took over the Rossoneri reins in July, said he assumed the selection choices he made.

“He (Honda) did a lot of the dirty work,” said the Serbian. “Certainly, he could have done a little better up front but that’s football. When you lose, you’re (considered) a sinner and when you win you are (considered) faultless.”

Both Inter, the 2010 Champions League winners, and seven-time European champions Milan failed to qualify for Europe this season.

After bolstering their squads during the summer, both are hoping to return to the Champions League next season.