Warnock rages after Barton loses his head
QPR 1 NORWICH 2
IF ONE of Joey Barton's new year's resolutions as a new dad was to deal with his anger management issues, it did not last long.
So often Barton stands accused of playing the game with his heart rather than his head. Here, it was his head that got him into trouble, an apparent off-the-ball butt on Norwich's Bradley Johnson earning him a red card and costing Queens Park Rangers three points.
QPR manager Neil Warnock accused Johnson of cheating; Barton claimed the officials had been conned.
The year may be just two days old, but there is little prospect of this acquaintance being forgot in a hurry.
We could argue back and forth about the semantics of whether Barton moved his forehead towards Johnson's, whether there was anything more than the most gentle of contacts, whether Johnson's thespian reaction was really a proportionate response.
The fact was that Barton inclined his head in Johnson's direction. And not, we can be certain, in deference.
The incident occurred with QPR 1-0 up and on the attack.
First, Barton and Zak Whitbread collided in the centre circle, and for a fleeting instant there was a little light grappling and flailing of arms.
Barton then came face to face with Johnson. The pair squared up, Barton angled his head towards Johnson's once, then again. Johnson recoiled but stayed on his feet.
After consulting assistant David Richardson, referee Neil Swarbrick sent Barton off. Johnson escaped without punishment.
"They say cheats don't prosper," spluttered Warnock. "Not in a million years has he been headbutted. The movement of him going backwards has conned the referee. The linesman was 50 yards away. I think they've just guessed.
"I've seen Bradley Johnson a few times doing things like that. It doesn't surprise me. And then, to rub salt in the wound, he started rubbing his nose as if feeling for blood. To go back like he did was a disgrace. It's getting a fellow pro sent off. That's totally out of order. I think he should be done."
The question remained why the QPR captain's head was so close to Johnson's in the first place.
"He could have avoided that," granted Warnock, "but it doesn't warrant the reaction from Johnson. If it was the other way round, I don't think Joey would have gone down. Joey's not daft enough to headbutt somebody with every camera in the country on him."
There is one problem with that. Barton is exactly that, daft.
Through nature or upbringing, combat comes unthinkingly to him. In the face of confrontation, he is conditioned never to back down. When Johnson issued the challenge to him, Barton's bestial pride prevented him from walking away.
Later, on Twitter, he attempted to explain himself: "Feel for the officials," he wrote. "They've been conned. Admitted to me at half-time they never saw it. I was pulled back first, then kicked second! Linesman definitely never saw it, all he seen was Johnson's reaction.
"Ridiculous decision, seen 25 replays. Make your own minds up when you see it. Cannot apologise as I know I've not headbutted anyone. Disappointed for the lads and the fans."
Having played the pantomime victim to great effect for Newcastle against Arsenal in August, getting Gervinho sent off with his flamboyant reaction to a push, Barton is in no position to condemn Johnson's gamesmanship.
The real tragedy was that up to that point, Barton had been having an excellent game. He scored the early goal, a sweet finish after a fine move.
Norwich had created little before the sending-off, but took immediate advantage of the extra man. Neither QPR centre-back got close enough to Anthony Pilkington as he cut in from the right on his left foot and unleashed an unstoppable low drive from 20 yards to equalise.
QPR emerged for the second half with fire in their bellies and the sharp Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. Norwich, meanwhile, made a triple substitution that paid dividends seven minutes from time. Elliott Bennett headed down a cross at the far post and Steve Morison drilled the ball home from eight yards. (© Daily Telegraph, London)