Barton may still be biggest test for Warnock

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Queen's Park Rangers 3
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The Independent Online

It is never too late for new experiences, even for a manager of Neil Warnock's longevity, 62 years old and with seven promotions on his record, the latest of which lifted Queen's Park Rangers into the Premier League in May.

Yet not until now has he had much money to spend. And not until now has he had to manage anyone quite like Joey Barton. It may be his most difficult challenge. The 29-year-old baggage-laden midfielder insists his baddest days are in the past, yet the urge for confrontation is still not far below the surface.

That much was clear in the closing moments at Molineux on Saturday, where Rangers had sealed a comfortable win yet Barton, whom Warnock has made captain, was still seemingly unable to keep his base instincts in check, making gestures to the crowd and needing to be restrained after Karl Henry, with whom he had waged a running battle when Wolves met Newcastle last year, had taken his legs from under him in the manner of a man wanting to make a point.

Later, on Twitter, Barton labelled Henry an "idiot" and a "Sunday League player". Last year, Henry had accused Barton of having "a lot of talk with nothing to back it up".

It all suggested that while Barton may be renouncing his "vulgar" footballers' lifestyle – he plans to sell his £500,000 watch collection and swap his £100,000 Aston Martin for an eco-friendly Toyota – his combustible nature is not so easily ditched.

Yet Warnock is willing to take the risk. "If he did not have a past I could not have signed him," he said. "You can't have it all ways."

Then again, having watched Barton score one goal and help set up another, the manager's mood was understandably benign. His newly-constructed team, five of whom were playing only their second games, had looked surprisingly coherent.

There were several fine performances. Alejandro Faurlin, who predates the Tony Fernandes takeover, was the outstanding midfielder and Shaun Wright-Phillips roamed with consistent menace. Among a back four commanded by Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traoré, the left-back plucked from the wreckage of Arsenal's 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, took the eye with some splendid forward runs, the last of which set up the substitute D J Campbell for Rangers' third goal, franking a victory that had never been in doubt after 10 minutes of dozy Wolves defending allowed Barton and Faurlin to compose a dream start.

Warnock, in the old-fashioned way, has sought players "with something to prove" and sees Barton as a born-again intellectual, haunting the art galleries and bookshops of the capital in woolly-hatted anonymity, thus finding the contentment to compose footballing masterpieces. It is a nice notion that may be fanciful nonsense. Only Barton will decide.

Scorers: QPR Barton 8, Faurlin 10, Campbell 87.

Substitutes: Wolves Vokes 6 (Elokobi, h-t), Guedioura 6 (Kightly, h-t), Hunt 6 (Jarvis, 73). QPR Campbell (Bothroyd, 73), Smith 6 (Taarabt, 75), Hall (Gabbidon, 83). Booked: Wolves Guedioura, Vokes. QPR Bothroyd, Faurlin, Ferdinand.

Man of the match Traoré. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Wolves 42% QPR 58%.

Attempts on target: Wolves 6 QPR 12.

Referee A Taylor (Cheshire). Attendance 24,189.

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