Barton braced for hard time on homecoming to Merseyside

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The Independent Football

Joey Barton returns to his native Merseyside this weekend with his Newcastle United side knowing he could be targeted on and off the pitch.

The 28-year-old and his team-mates will attempt to bounce back from their surprise 2-0 home defeat by Blackpool at Everton in what is likely to be an even tougher Premier League fixture.

Huyton-born Barton has become used to hostile receptions and is expecting no different on Saturday, although he insists he does not have a problem with it.

The former Manchester City player appeared to be marked out for special attention during last month's 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers when he was on the receiving end of many a strong (some may say reckless) tackle possibly with the expectation that he would retaliate. Barton discussed the matter with the Wolves manager Mick McCarthy as they left the pitch.

Barton, who was sent off on his last trip to his home city at Liverpool two seasons ago, said: "I think a lot has been made of it. It's because everything that happens around me becomes a big deal. People think I have metamorphosed into a saint.

"My disciplinary record isn't that bad on the pitch – I have only been sent off with straight reds twice. I have had a few second yellows, but that comes with it when you are a midfielder – it is part of the territory.

"I told Mick McCarthy I thought they had targeted me and he told me I was no shrinking violet myself. That's part of the game and Mick is a good football man - it's by the by, it's gone."

Barton recently spoke candidly about the off-the-field problems which have interrupted his career on Tyneside in a BBC interview, but is now concentrating on his football after returning to something like his best form.

Competition for places in the Magpies' midfield has been increased by the transfer window arrivals of Hatem Ben Arfa, a winger Newcastle have on a season long loan deal from the French club Marseilles, who made his debut as a substitute at the weekend, and Cheik Tiote, the defensive midfielder who was signed from the Dutch club FC Twente.

Barton said: "We have competition for places and it's up to the lads who get the starts to hold on to that shirt, and that's the same for everybody here. We have got new players coming in and they are coming into a strong squad.

"I am fully fit now and had the full pre-season under my belt. I have got the chance to prove it in a good team."