If one of Joey Barton's new year's resolutions as a new dad was to deal with his anger management issues, it did not last long. January's football actually began rather well with his firm strike to give Queen's Park Rangers an early lead but by half-time he had been sent off for sticking his head in an opponent's face. It was a costly loss of composure, for within a few minutes Norwich City had equalised and in the second half their superior numbers eventually wore down the home side's resistance, Steve Morison scoring seven minutes from time to secure Norwich a second away win of the season and a place in the top half of the table.
With Swansea also achieving an away victory, Rangers are left in much the worst position of the three promoted clubs. They have sunk to their lowest position of the season after only one win in 11 games and will drop into the bottom three if Wigan can beat Sunderland today.
But for the crop of signings in August – Barton among them – immediately after Tony Fernandes bought control of the club, their predicament would be far worse. Further recruitment has already begun with the arrival on loan from Manchester United of Federico Macheda, who came on for 10 minutes.
The Rangers manager, Neil Warnock, was predictably forthright about the sending-off. "Cheats don't prosper they say but Bradley Johnson's not been headbutted," he said.
"The heads are together but the movement going back has conned the linesman. I've seen Bradley Johnson do a few things like that. It's getting a fellow pro sent off and it's out of order. I think he should be done."
Barton, the Rangers captain, meanwhile tweeted: "Officials been conned. Linesman definitely never saw it, all he seen (sic) was Johnson's reaction.
"My head doesn't ... move forward at all. Ridiculous decision, seen 25 replays. Cannot apologise as I know I've not headbutted anyone. A touching of skin with absolutely no velocity whatsoever."
Rangers may not appeal, however, Warnock having been dismayed when Wolves failed to have Nenad Milijas's dismissal at Arsenal recently overturned. "I've not got much confidence in the appeals procedure," he said.
The Norwich manager, Paul Lambert, declined to comment on the incident but did not feel it was a turning point. "We started really well, QPR scored against the run of play and I thought we deserved to win the game," he said. He did agree, however, that his squad would need strengthening this month and that "if this club survives [in the Premier League] it'll be a monumental achievement."
Barton's second goal for the club provided the only incident of a dull first half-hour.
ClintHill made a fine run down the left to supply a low cross that the Rangers captain drilled home from 12 yards out.
Barton went off in the 36th minute and six minutes later Norwich took the lead when Anthony Pilkington beat goalkeeper Paddy Kenny from a good 25 yards out.
With Norwich enjoying increased possession, substitute Wes Hoolahan knocked back Pilkington's cross for Morison to force home the winner.
The sending-off apart, Warnock refused to be dismayed. "Rather than think about the [League] position we should regroup with two or three additions and look forward to the second half of the season," he said.
Substitutes: Queen's Park Rangers Wright-Phillips 7 (Mackie, h-t), Macheda (Helguson, 80), Campbell (Taarabt, 84). Norwich City Hoolahan 8 (Lappin, 66), Morison 7 (Holt, 66), Fox 6 (Drury, 66).
Booked: QPR Helguson, Wright-Phillips. Norwich Ayala.
Sent off: QPR Barton (36).
Man of the match Faurlin. Match rating 6/10. Possession: QPR 49% Norwich 51%.
Attempts on target: QPR 6 Norwich 6.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire). Attendance 18,033.
Barton's red cards
14 Feb 2004 (FA Cup 4th round replay) Tottenham 3-4 Manchester City.
Booked for late challenge on Mich-ael Brown before being dismissed for dissent during half-time.
126 Feb 2006 (Premier League) Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City.
Two bookings for poor challenges on Jan Kromkamp and Sami Hyypia.
123 Dec 2006 (Premier League) Manchester City 0-2 Bolton.
Saw red for lunge on Abdoulaye Faye.
13 May 2009 (Premier League) Liverpool 3-0 Newcastle.
Shown straight red after two-footed challenge on Xabi Alonso.