It was not all bad news for Joey Barton on Wednesday. The Chancellor's top-rate tax cut should enable him to bank an extra £170,000 a year, though this will be slightly offset by the fact he and partner Georgina will no longer receive child benefit for baby Cassius.
Any pleasure taken from the budget, however, was quickly dissipated when he went to work that night at Loftus Road. The QPR captain, by his own admission, had a stinker and he was hauled off just after the hour with Rangers losing 1-0 to Liverpool. This ignominy was compounded by supporters cheering the sight of his No 17 in red lights on the fourth official's board, then booing Barton off.
After QPR won 3-2 to haul themselves out of the relegation zone, Barton took to Twitter where he criticised fans who booed him but admitted: "I was awful, worst I've ever played in my career." That appears not to have stemmed a torrent of abuse as he signed off with "Form is temporary, class is permanent," and "What part of I was sh*t (sic) tonight don't people understand...? Can't be any more honest than that."
The QPR captain was back on the social network yesterday morning, quoting Kipling's 'If' rather than the over-used Nietzsche line, "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger", though surprisingly not Kipling's line which he might feel applies to journalists ("If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools"). Barton later added: "the tallest trees will always catch the most wind" which does not quite chime with Kipling's message about humility. But Barton has long been a contradictory character.
At QPR he is regarded as one of the best trainers in the club, and one of the most professional in attitude, when his head is right. But he can also be a disruptive influence in the dressing room and has had problems with the more gifted but somewhat lazy Adel Taarabt.
Last season he played well for Newcastle but Alan Pardew was still prepared to allow him to leave the club for nothing as he sought to create a more unified dressing room. QPR signed him in August, making him their highest-paid player to lure him to the newly promoted club with big ideas but a small stadium and archaic training ground.
Neil Warnock made him captain but found Barton increasingly hard to handle. After a bright start capped by a goal in the September victory at Wolves, Barton's performances dipped, his influence on matches appearing to decline in inverse proportion to his involvement in the capital's media and cultural attractions.
A needless dismissal at home to Norwich in early January (QPR, leading through Barton's goal at the time, subsequently lost) led indirectly to Warnock's dismissal, but Hughes' arrival seems not to have improved Barton's form.
Rodney Marsh, the former QPR player, said this week he felt Barton had been "a complete waste of time" and suggested "he did not have the interests of the club" at heart.
Hughes was supportive. "Joey was not having the best of times," said the manager, explaining his substitution, "but he's big enough to keep demanding the ball and getting involved. It was unfortunate that a few felt a need to boo him but Joey's very strong. He won't let it affect him and will play a big part from now to the end of the season." Mackie, who scored QPR's injury-time winner, added his backing. "You don't like to hear a team-mate get booed but Joey's an immensely strong character," said Mackie. "He never hides, whether he's having a good or bad game. He's our captain, our leader. He's probably got a bigger part to play than anyone [in the run-in]."
In the absence of the injured Alejandro Faurlin, Hughes needs Barton to regain form if QPR are to survive. Their next match is at Sunderland tomorrow, where Barton can expect a lot of attention, particularly seen as he is a former Newcastle player.
"Joey can handle any pressure that's chucked his way," added Mackie, "and Sunderland's the place to prove it."Reuse content