REFEREE Neil Swarbrick had the decisive final word as ten man Queens Park Rangers slipped to a home defeat to Norwich City.
The official turned a mild-mannered affair into a ticking time-bomb with a succession of baffling decisions culminating in a red card for QPR skipper Joey Barton.
The decision itself seemed to have a large contribution from the assistant referee who didn’t see fit to alert the referee at any stage prior to Mr Swarbrick seeking his contribution.
The scoring had been opened by the R’s skipper Barton prior to his dismissal while Anthony Pilkington equalised late on in the first period.
Despite seeing the better of the chances in the second half, it was the Canaries that took all three points when substitute Steve Morison stole in to thrash home the winner.
Barton will be held accountable with a three match ban, but official Mr Swarbrick will presumably be allowed to cause this brand of carnage somewhere else.
Credit to Norwich City for taking advantage of the situation, but Neil Warnock will be quite evidently seething after seeing three points snatched from his grasp.
Neil Warnock made changes to the side that were defeated at Arsenal with Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Heidar Helguson, Paddy Kenny and Shaun Derry coming in for Matt Connolly, Armand Traoré, Jay Bothroyd, Radek Cerny and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon and Hill. Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry started in the middle with Adel Taarabt, Jamie Mackie and Joey Barton starting just behind Helguson. New signing Federico Macheda lined up on the bench.
Norwich City began with John Ruddy behind a back four of Russell Martin, Zak Whitbread, Daniel Ayala and Adam Drury. The midfield four comprised of Elliot Bennett, Simon Lappin, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington with Simeon Jackson partnering Grant Holt in attack.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v NORWICH CITY
The respective records made for interesting reading coming into the encounter with Norwich City with only one away victory in the last six while the hosts have still unbelievably won only once at Loftus Road this campaign.
The importance of the fixture could not be understated, certainly the most important game of the season thus far as the automatically promoted duo battled for supremacy at Loftus Road – Rangers seeking revenge for their defeat at Carrow Road.
The game kicked off in the crisp West London weather as Norwich City looked the more comfortable side on the ball – carving out a useful spell of possession, predominantly in defensive areas.
The basis of the Canaries game sought to stretch the pitch before using the pace of Simeon Jackson and Elliot Bennett in the channels. Grant Holt played his typically busy role in the heart of the attack, looking to buy set pieces and scrap for possession.
In truth despite having a wealth of the ball Norwich seemed unable to carve out a chance of note – Rangers however counter-attacked to perfection as they took an 11th minute lead at Loftus Road.
Ale Faurlín used the ball wisely in the middle of the park before caressing a ball to soaring full back Clint Hill. The defender clipped a speculative pass across the area where Joey Barton was lurking – he powered home from close range to hand QPR the advantage.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 NORWICH CITY
There could be little question that this came against the run of play, but it mattered little as Rangers had the advantage in a crucial clash. It spurred QPR on as Shaun Derry’s hopeful drive was blocked at point-blank range.
Norwich refused to relent and Bradley Johnson engineered some space on the edge of the area before a deflected drive fell fortuitously straight into the arms of the grateful returning ‘keeper Paddy Kenny.
Chances were few and far between in a half that predominately saw Norwich ask the questions in possession. Simeon Jackson latched onto a Bennett centre but conspire to place wide of the upright.
With little under ten minutes remaining of the half, the flash point ensued. Queens Park Rangers were breaking away down the left flank when a combination of players, one of which was Bradley Johnson conspired to haul Barton to the floor.
The ferocity of the way he was reduced to the turf by both men saw the fiery midfielder react angrily. His thrust himself in the direction of the aforementioned Johnson who held his face – categorically not being struck in that area.
Mr Swarbrick did not see fit to give a foul for the incident, with the linesman contented to allow play to continue. Barton was then reduced to rubble with a scything challenge. At this point the play was stopped.
Inexplicably the official held a conversation with his linesman – who refused to flag for the incident – and dismissed Barton. Naivety on Barton’s part to put himself in this position but the cynical nature of Johnson’s reaction and the method of decision making sent pulses racing I the stands and on the field.
The official seemed in the mood to stand firm and dig in, with a disappointing set of decisions going the wrong way – some in fact bizarrely went in Rangers favour as the referee truly lost control of a previously tepid encounter.
The atmosphere was as intimidating as you’ll see this season, Loftus Road was a cauldron of noise and this was in part due to the spirited nature of their side along with some farcical decision-making by an official clearly out of his depth.
This was a direct contributing factor to City’s equaliser – Anthony Pilkington drove forward through the middle with options left and right being adequately marshalled. His stinging left footed drive left Kenny no chance – nestling into the bottom right hand corner.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 NORWICH CITY
There could be little question at the quality of the strike, but the space allowed to Pilkington would have surely not been afforded with the full compliment of players. Nevertheless Rangers fought on.
Helguson was next to fall foul of Mr Swarbrick when his challenge was booked as an afterthought by the official – it was clear to see that Warnock was far from impressed with him along with the Loftus Road support.
He drew the half to a close and was hounded from the field by the supporters – at best the biggest decision was based on reputations rather than actualities – the fact remained that the scores were now level.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 NORWICH CITY
With the focus firmly upon the decisions of the officials at half time – Warnock opted to respond by introducing Shaun Wright-Phillips at the expense of the unfortunate departing Jamie Mackie.
The lively wide-man Wright-Phillips carved out the opening opportunity of the half with ten men – his run and subsequent shot drew a smart save low down from John Ruddy. More was to come from the resurgent hosts.
More tantalising wing-work from Wright-Phillips saw the former Manchester City man fend off two men before squaring for Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan clipped a right-footed effort tamely wide of the left hand upright despite the close intentions of Helguson.
Taarabt was once again in the thick of the action as Daniel Ayala was correctly cautioned for hauling down Helguson. The Moroccan’s resultant free-kick drew a smart outstretched save from Ruddy, tipping the ball onto the right hand upright.
Norwich were understandably playing a possession game, looking to stretch the play and make the most of their numerical advantage. The final pass eluded them however as they make that key incision.
More useful work from the lively Wright-Phillips saw the enterprising wide-man thrash the ball just wide of the upright – maintaining his unwanted statistics of having the most attempts on goal without troubling the scorers.
Play soon switched to the other end and Bennett was thwarted by the underworked Kenny, holding the ball low down to his right. Despite their evident disadvantage Rangers were fighting manfully in the face of their player deficit.
Grant Holt and Danny Gabbidon came together with the forward and defender going down in a heap – the referee sounded his whistle to evident sharp inhalations around the ground – thankfully it was Holt that was penalised for his sizeable tug on the R’s defender.
It was his final action as he was one of three to be withdrawn – David Fox, Steve Morison and Wes Hoolahan coming on for Holt, Lappin and Drury. Lambert evidently key to freshen things up in a stagnant second period in terms of visiting threat.
Wright-Phillips was rightfully cautioned after losing control of the ball before Kenny claimed well from a Pilkington cross as the two sides continued to trade blows in a bid to take three much needed points.
Ale Faurlín occasionally will contribute a goal from distance and this latest effort dipped just over the left hand upright with Ruddy rooted to the spot as the Argentine’s effort drifted inches over.
Norwich came back with a vengeance. A delivery from the left saw former Millwall front-man Morison lurch into the area but glance inches wide of Kenny’s right hand post – a sure-fire warning sign for the home side.
Federico Macheda was introduced for the home side at the expense of Helguson and it nearly reaped immediate rewards. Tantalising work from Wright-Phillips saw his pin-point cross inches away from the onrushing Italian, with Ruddy just able to punch clear.
Minutes later Norwich had their winner and the numbers game truly took its toll on the weary hosts. A deep cross from the left saw Bennett cushion into Steve Morison and the forward had little more to do than to power home the inevitable winner.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-2 NORWICH CITY
With eight minutes left on the clock, Warnock threw on DJ Campbell at the expense of the once again excellent Adel Taarabt – so much so that there was some murmurings of discontent at his withdrawal.
Rangers still attempted to play the correct way – showing some excellent spirit despite evidently flagging. Faurlín’s speculative effort from outside the area was all that the R’s could muster as Norwich held the ball effectively.
Hoolahan’s slide rule pass for Morison helped display Norwich’s intentions in the latter stages when he withdrew his attacking intent to the corner flag – such is customary for a team leading in such an environment.
Mr Swarbrick brought down the curtain on an afternoon where his direct influence on the encounter was laid bare for all to see. The aftermath may make uncomfortable viewing for he and his fellow officials as Rangers lose out in a crucial fixture.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-2 NORWICH CITY
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Alejandro Faurlín, Joey Barton (Sent Off 35), Adel Taarabt (DJ Campbell 85), Jamie Mackie (Shaun Wright-Phillips 46), Heidar Helguson (Federico Macheda 80)
John Ruddy, Russell Martin, Zak Whitbread, Daniel Ayala, Adam Drury (David Fox 66), Elliot Bennett, Bradley Johnson, Simon Lappin (Wes Hoolahan 66), Anthony Pilkington, Simeon Jackson, Grant Holt (Steve Morison 66)