Norwich City snatched a late winner at Loftus Road against ten-man QPR as the hosts slump continued. Steve Morison was the Canaries hero with the late winning goal, but it will be Joey Barton who will make all the headlines as first he gave QPR the lead, then was sent off in bizarre circumstances before half-time.
Neil Warnock made five changes for the second consecutive game. There was a welcome return for Anton Ferdinand following five games out due to injury. Paddy Kenny also returned having missed the game at Arsenal 48 hours before. In front of him were Gabbidon and Ferdinand with Young at right-back and Hill replacing the injured Traore at left-back. The midfield saw Derry and Faurlin teaming up in the deep lying positions with Barton, Mackie and Taarabt in more advanced roles with Heidar Helguson leading the line upfront. New loanee Federico Macheda was named as one of the substitutes along with the almost forgotten Rob Hulse.
Both teams started brightly and looked intent on playing attractive football albeit with contrasting formations with Norwich playing 4-4-2 while Warnock was relying on his 4-2-3-1 formation. Norwich seemed to boss the opening exchanges possession wise, but it was Rangers who took the lead with the clock just into double figures. Clint Hill launched a ball to Helguson on the edge of the ‘D’ and he was clearly fouled by Zak Whitbread who hauled him to the ground. It wasn’t the first time Norwich’s No.6 had impeded our No.9 and it certainly wouldn’t be the last either.
With the ball eventually cleared and the home crowd still appealing, Faurlin just got on with the game and found the overlapping Hill with a lovely pass. Hill hit the ball first time into the danger area and with the Norwich rearguard caught square by the dragged back cross, the ball found Joey Barton at the far post lurking with intent. QPR’s captain put his head down and drilled a low shot through a ruck of players and into the bottom corner under the keeper’s dive for his second goal of the season.
On 18 minutes, Norwich fashioned their first decent attempt on goal when Bradley Johnson cut inside Hill and teed up a shot on his left foot. Fortunately for us three players had closed him down and Derry got the block in to take the sting out of the shot and Kenny made a comfortable save. Then on the half-hour, Pilkington got down the right and picked out Simeon Jackson at the near post, but the Canadian’s header went into the turf and then harmlessly wide.
Then on 35 minutes, the game changed in more ways than one. Rangers were on the attack and as the ball went down the right wing, Barton went to run past Bradley Johnson who appeared to trip him off the ball. The referee seemed to give us a free kick and Barton gestured with his hand as if to say, ‘sort him out’. The referee then walked over to Johnson and then the linesman. Grant Holt appeared to be asking the ref to be lenient with Johnson for whatever he had done. With no player of either side making any form of appeal, it looked like the referee must’ve seen something that no other person in the ground had seen. He then marched 10 yards to the half-way line and brandished a red card at Joey Barton !
Considering that the referee had given us the foul and that the linesman had not flagged for anything, it seemed a weird decision to say the least. And considering that in the 17th minute Simon Lappin had wiped out Barton on the half-way line with a late challenge and the referee had first played on then, following Helguson’s complaint, the referee then had words with Norwich’s No.19 and it was clear that the ref was saying ‘no more fouls’, it seemed bizarre that Johnson had got off scot free. I believe the ref lost the game at that moment. Issue a yellow and he would’ve nipped it in the bud. And I can’t believe that Barton and Johnson have previous as Barton didn’t play in the game at Carrow Road as he was suspended.
I’m guessing here when I say that both referee and his assistant were also guessing, and guessing wrong. It wasn’t the only mistakes they made all afternoon, but it was the most telling. No doubt people will say that Barton only brings bad news on himself which is a fair comment to a degree, but you can only make a decision if you have seen the incident and seeing as both officials didn’t stop play earlier leads me to believe that they made a monumental cock-up.
Meanwhile, we had a game of football to watch. Within 5 minutes of the sending off, Norwich had made the extra man pay. Pilkington picked the ball up some 25 yards out and taking a couple of strides he unleashed a low left-footed shot that crept inside the right-hand post with Kenny at full stretch. I don’t want to sound all ‘Alan Hansen-ish’, but maybe we should’ve been a bit quicker to close him down when he teed the shot up.
With three minutes added on it was enough time to show the referee’s schizophrenic thinking as first he booked Helguson for lunging in on Drury and not even touching him. In fact Drury ran on with the ball !!! Then as the seconds counted down, Daniel Ayala took a long range shot that sailed high over the bar and landed in the Upper Loft seats. The ref then ran 40 yards to tell Paddy Kenny to hurry up and take the goal kick. The referee had really lost the plot as the ball was still in the upper seating as Kenny quite rightly pointed out. Half-time: 1-1
Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced Mackie at the start of the 2nd half. Within seconds of the re-start he collected a pass from Taarabt and as the defender backed off he let fly with a low shot that Ruddy saved at his right-hand post. Taarabt, Faurlin, and Wright-Phillips were playing some lovely stuff and combined on 53 minutes, but as Taarabt went past Daniel Ayala he was tripped. The referee brandished a yellow card to a Norwich player for the first and only time of the game. To say that it was an innocuous challenge would be nearer the truth, especially considering that the worst challenge we had seen so far saw the referee wagging his finger at Lappin.
Taarabt lined up the free kick and bent it superbly over the wall and Ruddy was forced into an excellent full-stretch save as the ball was going just inside his right-hand post. Then within a minute, Faurlin found Wright-Phillips in the box, but his shot went about a yard wide. Rangers were not feeling sorry for themselves and were going for the win and for that Warnock and the players should take full credit. So much so that Paul Lambert brought on all three subs on 64 minutes, replacing Holt, Drury and Lappin with Morison, Fox and Hoolahan respectively.
Four minutes before the subs came on, the referee had awarded the first and only foul for an infringement on Heidar Helguson, but it wasn’t by Zak Whitbread, who seemed immune where the referee was concerned. I think Whitbread will be showing Adam Drury how to foul without being caught on the training ground.
On 67 minutes, Luke Young skipped past three players down the right and played in Taarabt who crossed first time into the box. Whitbread got a block in and as the ball reached the edge of the box, Faurlin hit it first time and although it packed plenty of power it was also rising and cleared the angle of bar and post by about a foot. Then with 15 minutes remaining, Luke Young took a heavy touch 30 yards outside our box and lost possession. With the right-back now out of position the ball was first played behind Young and then into the danger area and as the cross went into the box, Morison rose highest, but his glancing header went just wide.
On 80 minutes, new loanee Macheda replaced Helguson upfront. Within 20 seconds Wright-Phillips had put in a lovely cross for the Italian to make an instant impact, but as he was about to connect with his head at the near post, Ruddy made a decent fist of it and punched the ball clear. Within 2 minutes of that close call, two of Norwich’s subs combined for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Pilkington attacked Young and getting to the bye-line, whipped in a teasing cross to the back post. Wes Hoolahan volleyed the ball back across goal and Morison was on hand to sweep home from about 5 yards. It was a cruel blow for what had been a monumental effort by the ten men in the second-half. No blame can be attached to the goal as Norwich had played a patient waiting game for the last 15 minutes and had us stretched at the back for a short spell and with their only effort on target in the second-half, had won the game.
Then as we re-started the game, the referee made another weird decision. As we played the ball back to Derry from the kick-off, a Norwich player was out of position and was running across the pitch to take up his place on the right-hand side of midfield. The player had the audacity to enter the centre circle and encroached AFTER we kicked off. The ref stopped the game and made us re-take the kick-off. DJ Campbell replaced Taarabt in the time remaining, but Norwich held out for three points.
Team: Kenny 7, Young 7, Hill 7, Ferdinand 7, Gabbidon 7, Derry 6, Faurlin 8, Taarabt 8 (Campbell n/a), Mackie 6 (Wright-Phillips 8), Barton 6, Helguson 7 (Macheda 6)
MOTM: Taarabt. Back to his best following decent performances in the previous two games. Shaun Wright-Phillips gave him a run for his money though.
Referee: N. Swarbrick 1. The only thing he gets a point for is tossing the coin correctly at the start of the game.
Attendance: 18,033 (including 3,177 away fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)