You’re a professional footballer worth millions of pounds, playing on football’s most important stage. It’s the beginning of January and after a restful New Year you’re looking forward to the first game of 2012; a chance to make all things new.
The game kicks off and within 11 minutes, you’ve sent the home fans (all 15,000 of them) into raptures with one of the best goals of your career. A seven game streak without a win looks like it could be coming to an end. The gaffer’s smiling, the fans are singing your name and your teammates owe you a drink. All is well. All is new.
But as the crowd settles back into their seats at Loftus Road, you look up at the 1970s scoreboard, with one or two missing light bulbs to see your name in 75 watts of glowing electricity and it suddenly hits you; you’re not just any footballer. You’re Joseph Barton.
As this season’s most booked Premier League player, the opportunity to make all things new is quickly over-shadowed by the erratic need to relive days of old. Following a minor collision with an opposing midfielder, you chase down said midfielder and put your head close enough to his that it earns you the first Premier League red card of 2012. Normalcy is restored. New Year’s resolutions are abandoned.
In a game as open as Norwich’s 2-1 away victory at QPR on Monday, it’s difficult to say whether Barton’s red card determined the outcome, but it brought a momentum shift. You could easily argue that had Barton been able to keep his head (and avoid Bradley Johnson’s), the hole through which Anthony Pilkington raced before scoring City’s sensational opening goal might not have existed.
Quick to defend his fearless skipper, Neil Warnock took the opportunity to accuse Johnson of embellishing the head butt, thus drawing the red card from Neil Swarbrick’s pocket. The outraged manager went on to point out that his noble midfield general would not be guilty of this despicable act if the roles were reversed.
As much as I respect Warnock’s loyalty to his player, he only needs to rewind to the opening day of the season for an opposing view. It was a not entirely dissimilar altercation between Barton, then wearing the black and white of Newcastle United, and Arsenal’s Gervinho. Minimal contact led to Barton flying to the floor and appealing for retribution, which Gervinho duly received in the form of a red card on his debut. After the game, Barton would concede that he’d flung himself at the turf to show referee Peter Walton that he had been hit. He would later say, “My job is to do what’s best for my team, not to keep Gervinho on the pitch.”
Joey Barton on the opening day of the season.
Still, Rangers will take heart from their positive approach to the second half. Adel Taraabt’s exquisitely struck free kick was thwarted by an equally impressive high diving save from John Ruddy. Shaun Wright-Phillips attacked with pace on numerous occasions to try and punish City’s cavalier approach on the break and despite going down to ten men, QPR looked threatening at times, despite coming under rapid-fire pressure from the visiting team.
Sadly for the home fans, they can take as much heart as they like, but endeavor wins you nothing unless it’s saddled with points and when you’re sitting perilously close to the drop zone, the last thing they needed was a reckless outburst from their captain.
My new year’s resolution is to stop talking about Paul Lambert as the savior of the world. It lasted until the 59th minute of Monday’s match.
It’s rare to see a manager make three changes at once, especially so early on in the match. So, when Lambert withdrew Lappin, Drury and Holt to bring on Morison, Hoolahan and Fox, not only were City fans desperately hoping the team would avoid any kind of injury, but they also had to cringe each time QPR attacked Norwich’s re-shuffled three man defense.
We ought to expect it by now, but the Norwich manager was proven right when Pilkington’s brilliant driving run and cross was knocked down by Bennett for Morison to smash it home, via a goal line delfection.
If you could bottle it up and sell it, Lambert’s magic would be worth a small fortune to the Steve Keens and Mick McCarthys of this league. But what exactly is it?
It’s certainly not the same every time, but the underlying tone of his approach over the last two and a half seasons has been focused on attack minded football. Never give up, never let your head go down and never stop believing that there are more goals to be scored.
If you look at it like this; last season, Wolves needed 40 points to stay in the Premier League and finish 17th. At the halfway point in the season, 19 games, Norwich had 22 points. Double that and you could estimate that Norwich would be just above the drop zone when May 2012 is over. Now, with 25 points from 20 games, Norwich City are ninth and 10 points above the drop zone. All of that can change in just a couple of short weeks, but for now, we’ll pass on the new start, the fresh approach and the riddance of 2011.
My 2012 wishes for Norwich City and Joey Barton are very similar. I wish for our 2012 success and failures to mirror our 2011 success and failures and that we get what we deserve. So far, so good.