QPR aggrieved by Norwich’s lesson in dark arts – full match report
Wednesday, 4th Jan 2012 00:40 by Clive Whittingham
A controversial sending off for QPR captain Joey Barton turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 defeat for the R’s at home to Norwich on Monday afternoon.
The unmistakable sound of an alarm bell ringing was drowned out briefly by boos from three sides of Loftus Road on Monday, but will continue to chime for the fortnight until the next Premier League game for Queens Park Rangers who are relying on the January transfer market to rescue their season.
Rangers are currently a lethal combination of not very good and not very lucky – a familiar tale for relegated teams through the ages, including Ray Wilkins’ demoted QPR side of 1996. Wilkins’ inexperienced and ill-equipped side lost games on the frequent occasions it didn’t perform, and then when it was up to scratch found itself making horrendous individual mistakes or falling victim to crass refereeing. For the second time at Loftus Road this season it was the latter that afflicted Neil Warnock’s modern day equivalent on Monday.
Referee Neil Swarbrick may like to take a moment this week to quietly contemplate one of the first things he’ll have been told having walked through the door of his very first refereeing course: “You can only give what you’ve seen.” Deviation from that golden rule can leave officials looking stupid, and that’s exactly what Swarbrick and his assistant David Richardson looked here.
Joey Barton had already given the team he now captains a deserved early lead when he found himself first kicked across the heals by Norwich’s Bradley Johnson and then shoved in the back by his team mate Zak Whitbread as the trio attempted to become involved in another QPR counter attack. Barton squared up to Johnson and the pair exchanged verbals as play went on around them. When Luke Young then appealed for a man to pass to Barton provided an option and was allowed to continue with play while Johnson checked his face in back play in a display of fakery worthy of the Globe Theatre. Both officials were happy for play to continue, with QPR in possession, at this stage and Barton was then kicked high into the air by Elliott Bennett for a clear free kick to the home team.
What happened next only Swarbrick will be able to explain, and he’ll have to do just that after QPR rightly appealed the outrageous decision he and Richardson reached. Barton was red carded for what the referee indicated at the time was a head butt, later discretely changed to an intended head butt, and replays showed was nowhere close to either. A head butt, or attempted head butt, so severe that both officials who claimed to have seen it were happy initially for QPR to play on with possession.
It was a scandalous decision, but one in keeping with a truly dreadful afternoon of officiating and a horribly cynical display from the visiting team who have clearly learnt very quickly about the darker arts of the Premiership. Rarely were Norwich caught engaging in an unbroken piece of open play – there was always an attempt to win a free kick, a committee meeting with the referee, a shirt pull on the blindside, a moan to a linesman, an obvious dive rewarded with a free kick. Grant Holt led the way, but was by no means acting alone. QPR were conned out of this match, but they were tremendously naïve as well – Rangers, and the referee, fell for every single trick from Norwich’s lousy book across the entire 90 minutes.
The QPR team charged with finding a first win in eight matches by manager Neil Warnock showed several changes from the weekend defeat by Arsenal for this second game in three days. Anton Ferdinand returned to the defence after four games out with a hamstring injury and was partnered by Danny Gabbidon. Armand Traore missed out though, replaced by Clint Hill, with Luke Young at right back and Paddy Kenny fit enough to resume in goal. Further forward Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin anchored the midfield with Barton wide right, Jamie Mackie wide left and Adel Taarabt ahead of them through the middle. Heidar Helguson replaced Jay Bothroyd as the lone striker.
Paul Lambert rarely keeps the same team himself, but his squad rotation has brought better results than Warnock’s in recent weeks. He escaped from a home match with Fulham with a point on Saturday thanks to a late equaliser from Simeon Jackson who was rewarded with a start here along with his fellow Saturday sub Grant Holt.
And it was the Canaries, safely ensconced in the middle of the league table, who started much the brighter of the two sides. Rangers were forced to clear a well delivered corner from Pilkington in the first minute and then the former Huddersfield man rode an attempted foul from Faurlin and cracked a shot at goal that was blocked and cleared by Anton Ferdinand.
Rangers’ need was undoubtedly the greater of the two sides and they quickly settled to their task after the early scares, taking the lead after ten minutes. The goal owed much to an exquisite ball into the left channel from Faurlin which teed up Clint Hill for a low cut back into the area that was dispatched emphatically into the net by the onrushing Joey Barton. His second goal for the club, and first at Loftus Road, brought audible relief around the ground and seemed to relax the home team.
But the action was beset with warning signs. Elliott Bennett fell dramatically to ground after a quarter of an hour and was rewarded with a free kick which Whitbred headed over. Having retreated back to his own half Whitbred then aggressively challenged Helguson from behind under a high ball and play on was waved. Grant Holt was on hand for regular meetings with the officials almost every occasion the ball went out of play. Even the goal had been preceded by a Whitbred foul on Helguson on the edge of the area that referee Neil Swarbrick had ignored.
Then, after 19 minutes, Bradley Johnson had a weak shot saved by Kenny and QPR broke across halfway. Recognising danger Simon Lappin cynically and deliberately hacked Barton down in the centre circle. Play was rightly waved on, QPR had been sinned against but maintained possession in an attacking situation, but when it drew to a close referee Swarbrick settled for giving the defender a mild ticking off. It was a yellow card all day, all night, all weekend long. In the second half Heidar Helguson was booked for a less serious offence while Wright-Phillips was carded for an identical one.
Once play resumed Simeon Jackson scooped a presentable chance wide from eight yards out after Anton Ferdinand had been caught too deep playing everybody onside. But it was the officiating occupying minds and tempers. Bennett fell theatrically again, again a free kick was awarded. Helguson was fouled by Whtibread again, again nothing was given. Swarbrick was now too busy warning Paddy Kenny about time wasting every time he failed to deliver a goal kick within three seconds of the ball going behind to notice anything else. QPR were growing frustrated, Norwich were starting to realise they could pretty much do as they pleased. A flashpoint was coming.
Ten minutes before half time disaster struck – for QPR as a whole, and the referee as an individual with career aspirations. QPR snuffed out a Norwich attack and moved away down the left through Faurlin, already though trouble was brewing out on the right where first Whitbread with his arm and then Johnson with his foot had lashed out at Joey Barton as he crossed the halfway line. Barton squared up to Johnson as play went on around the pair but neither the linesman nor the referee saw anything in the confrontation worthy of stopping play for – presumably had either seen an offence from Barton then play would have been stopped and a free kick awarded to the visitors. Instead QPR, first with Young and then through Barton himself, were able to play on and construct the attack which had by now switched to the right. Play ended when Bennett hacked Barton down and from that point on chaos reigned.
Two Norwich players went immediately to the referee while Grant Holt, some 40 yards away initially and of no relevance to the situation whatsoever, flew across the field to deliver his verdict to both Swarbrick and his assistant referee David Richardson. The QPR fans bayed for Johnson’s blood for his deliberate kick out at Barton off the ball. Swarbrick and Richardson locked themselves in discussion.
Now one can only imagine what was said between the two. Presumably, given that Swarbrick quickly returned to the field and sent Barton off, the conversation concluded with them deciding that although Swarbrick hadn’t seen anything worth stopping a QPR attack and awarding a Norwich free kick for initially, and although Richardson hadn’t seen anything worth stopping a QPR attack and awarding a Norwich free kick for initially, what had actually happened was that a QPR player had headbutted a Norwich player and they had in fact seen it after all.
Far more likely than that ludicrous scenario is that they both saw some sort of coming together, they then saw Bradley Johnson holding his nose, they then noticed it was Joey Barton whose past record is extensive and they guessed. They broke the golden rule of refereeing – you can only give what you have seen. Neither of them saw it, otherwise they would have awarded a Norwich free kick and sent Barton off immediately. They deduced, on the balance of probability and wrongly as it turned out, that a Norwich player wouldn’t be holding his nose if nobody had touched it and that Joey Barton is the type to do something like that.
Johnson is a cheat and should be retrospectively dealt with as such, and the referee should be struck off immediately for gross misconduct. There is no excuse for the behaviour of either. They should both be thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed.
For Barton, who dived pathetically to get Gervinho sent off while he was playing for Newcastle against Arsenal back in August, I’m afraid this is a case of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ and Neil Warnock’s post match assertion that Barton wouldn’t have reacted in the same way as Johnson is plainly incorrect – because he in fact reacted a lot worse in that Arsenal game.
But for QPR, who had played their way into this game and won a valuable lead in an honest and hard working style in the face of outlandish gamesmanship and outright cheating, this was a travesty.
By halftime Norwich had levelled. Johnson shot wide three minutes after his swindle and then four minutes before the break Anthony Pilkington was afforded too much time on the edge of the area and drilled a fabulous shot across Paddy Kenny and into the far corner of the net.
Pilkington is the acceptable side of this Norwich team. Exceptionally talented, versatile, young and purchased for an absolute steal from League One Huddersfield Town. Paul Lambert is the Premiership Manager of the Year in waiting for the way he has guided Norwich through consecutive promotions to a midtable top flight position by consistently showing a sharp eye for a lower league talent. Of this Norwich starting 11, nine have either been bought from the Championship or lower or journeyed up from League One with Norwich. The other two, John Ruddy and Daniel Ayala, were picked up from Premiership reserve teams. Their gamesmanship in the face of QPR’s naïve honesty was lamentable, but their comparative success with this method of squad building as opposed to putting faith in the likes of Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips as QPR have done deserves huge credit.
Credit though is hard to award in such circumstances and the half concluded in typical fashion. A ball knocked forward by Norwich found Shaun Derry standing stock still in the middle of his own half. Grant Holt ran towards Derry, launched himself from a distance of three yards and collapsed on the ground behind him like a dying swan under literally no contact at all. Swarbrick, who’d spent the half ignoring increasing physical assaults on QPR’s own target man Heidar Helguson at the other end, quickly awarded a free kick to Derry’s clear astonishment.
Security forces ordered the referee to wait on the field while the tunnel was cleared once he’d finally brought the worst officiated half of football at Loftus Road since Andy Hall was last in town to a close. We were witnessing a scandal.
QPR need points desperately, so sitting back and hoping to hold on for a draw here wasn’t really an option. Neil Warnock deserves credit for not only leaving Heidar Helguson and the threatening Adel Taarabt on the field with ten men, but also introducing Shaun Wright-Phillips for the ineffective Jamie Mackie. Wright-Phillips immediately set to work with a dribble and low shot that was saved by Ruddy, and then a lung busting run down the right followed by a low cross to Taarabt who shot wide. Johnson responded with a shot of his own but hopes started to rise that this might be one of those memorable days in W12 when the R’s triumph in the face of adversity.
Seven minutes after half time the home side came within an inch of taking the lead. Miraculously, astonishingly, it came from a free kick. That’s right, Swarbrick finally awarded them one. Great play by Adel Taarabt developed an attack on the edge of the area that ended when Ayala kicked through the back of Faurlin and, wonders never cease, received a yellow card for his troubles. Taarabt took the free kick himself, expertly flighting it over the wall and towards the uncovered bottom right hand corner. Ruddy did brilliantly to scramble across the full width of his goal and plant fingertips on the ball, successfully diverting it onto the inside of the post and back into play. Like I say, a lethal combination of not very good and not very lucky.
Taarabt has had his fair share of criticism this season but he attacked the second half here with admirable determination. A fine through ball for Wright-Phillips produced a weak penalty appeal that Rangers wouldn’t have been awarded even by a fair referee and then a great cross from the Moroccan was diverted out to Faurlin whose goalbound left foot volley was headed out for a corner. Sadly the numerical disadvantage counted against Taarabt, none more so than when an outrageous piece of skill in the area dummied Whitbread six yards in the opposite direction but there was nobody on hand to receive the resulting cross. Neil Warnock mysteriously removed Taarabt five minutes from time to bring on DJ Campbell – I’ll never understand why.
By that stage Rangers were losing. Norwich had been cautious in their approach to playing ten men but intelligently exploited the tired legs of the home team by introducing three substitutes at once – Steve Morison, Wes Hoolahan and David Fox replaced omnipresent pain in the arse Holt, Simon Lappin and Adam Drury.
Morison had already headed a presentable chance wide at the back post when he found himself facing the goal with the ball at his feet and all the time in the world to pick his spot eight minutes from time. He didn’t pick it very well, shooting straight at Shaun Derry on the line, but with Paddy Kenny overcommitted chasing the initial deep back post cross and Derry off balance the ball wound up in the net regardless.
Warnock had sent on Manchester United loanee Federico Macheda for Heidar Helguson two minutes prior to that, and the young Italian may have scored with his first touch for the club had he been a little braver in collision with Ruddy under a fine Wright-Phillips cross, but the game was up once Morison had scored and everybody in the ground knew it.
In the past three games QPR have conceded a goal at Swansea after Danny Graham was allowed to bring the ball down with the palm of his hand because, in Lee Probert’s opinion, he didn’t mean to do it. They have then conceded a goal at Arsenal when they should have been lining up for an attacking corner because Martin Atkinson and his assistant didn’t see the incident and guessed wrongly that it was a goal kick. And now they have lost here because Neil Swarbrick and David Richardson didn’t see an incident and guessed as well based on player reaction and reputation. Throw in Stuart Attwell’s nonsense sending off in the Arsenal v Wolves game, outrageously upheld on appeal which doesn’t exactly bode well for Barton’s chances in this instance, and it hasn’t been the finest Christmas period for QPR or the refereeing fraternity.
This decision was the worst of the lot because not only was it wrong, but it was done on little more than a toss of a coin and a player’s reputation. Norwich player holding his nose, Joey Barton involved, it must be a red card.
Ultimately though it all just digs QPR in a little bit further. I’ve been kind to the team and Neil Warnock in recent weeks – rightly pointing out that seven points from eight matches against six of the top eight teams in the division isn’t a bad haul at all, and that having had just ten days in the summer to put a post-takeover team together being outside the bottom three at the turn of the year is some achievement.
But the time for excuses has gone now, and so has the run of ‘unwinnable’ fixtures. The transfer window is open, the games we have from now to March are all eminently winnable. We need quality players, and we need points, and we need them by the time we’ve finished at Bolton away or we’ll need a miracle to survive.
QPR: Kenny 6, Young 7, Ferdinand 7, Gabbidon 6, Hill 6, Derry 6, Faurlin 6, Barton 6, Taarabt 7 (Campbell 85, -), Mackie 5 (Wright-Phillips 46, 7), Helguson 6 (Macheda 80, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Connolly, Hulse
Sent Off: Barton 36 (“attempted headbutt”)
Booked: Helguson (foul), Wright-Phillips (foul)
Goals: Barton 11 (assisted Hill)
Norwich: Ruddy 7, Martin 6, Whitbread 7, Ayala 7, Drury 6 (Fox 66, 6), Bennett 6, Johnson 6, Lappin 6 (Hoolahan 66, 6), Pilkington 7, Holt 7 (Morison 66, 7), Jackson 6
Subs Not Used: Rudd, Surman, Wilbraham, Naughton
Booked: Ayala (foul)
Goals: Pilkington 42 (unassisted), Morison 83 (assisted Bennett)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 7 Worked hard without the ball, particularly without ten men, which was very out of character but hugely welcome. With the ball he posed all of QPR’s threat and continued the recent upward curve in his performances. Shaun Wright-Phillips a close second. Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 0 A LoftforWords first: a zero. We’ve never had one for a player or official before in my seven years on the site. Referee marks on here are judged largely on the big decisions, and of course Neil Swarbrick would have therefore been facing a low mark regardless because the big decision of the match was wrong. But to give a big decision with a guess, having not seen the incident, reduces him to a zero. What my girlfriend knows about football can be written on the back of postage stamp with a thick pen, but even she could stand in the middle of the pitch and guess decisions if you asked her to. How can a player be sent off for a head butt if play has been waved on with his team in possession? Perhaps a competent performance apart from the Barton incident may have elevated him to a two or three but he couldn’t even muster that. The difference in the way he refereed Holt and Helguson was bordering on corrupt. How was Lappin given the benefit of the doubt for his hack on Barton in the first half and then Wright-Phillips booked for the same thing in the second, and Helguson booked for a lot less? A performance that should have him considering his future in the game. Abject at best, scandalous at worst.
Attendance: 18, 033 (3,000 Norwich approx) Great support for both teams from both sets of fans. The QPR supporters stuck with their team and rightly gave the officials the rounds of the kitchen.
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