I have always believed that the sign of a good referee is that you hardly notice him. On Saturday you couldn’t fail to notice Mark Clattenburg, the latest example of the scourge of the celebrity ref.

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Clad in a striking scarlet top he trotted around Carrow Road like a perma-tanned My Little Pony ensuring that, try as we might, we couldn’t ignore him. Clearly labouring under the impression that 26,317 people had paid to watch him, rather than the players, Clattenburg proceeded to produce a performance in which he grabbed the limelight at every opportunity.

Play was regularly interrupted as he administered lectures or fussed over the latest QPR player to go down in agony under the hail of invisible sniper fire. In fact, one second-half stoppage was so long that I genuinely started to wonder if the game had been abandoned, although that, along with five second-half substitutions, somehow translated into just three minutes of added time.

I also seem to have missed the summer rule change which resulted in the responsibility for deciding the position of free-kicks being removed from the match referee and given to Ji-Sung Park.

Of course, the penalty, Bobby Zamora’s blatant encroachment and Robert Green’s handball have all been debated to death this week, so I won’t waste time on them here, other than to say that, along with Clint Hill’s bodycheck on Grant Holt when already on a yellow, they were the key decisions in the match. The fact that Clattenburg and his team got every one of them wrong tells you everything you need to know about their afternoon.

However, the horror show from the officials shouldn’t detract from a City performance that must have gone a long way towards reassuring those who felt that Chris Hughton favoured an overly negative approach. Just like last season, City pressed high up the pitch, and although their passing wasn’t as slick as it could be (hardly surprising given the relatively short time the squad has been together) there was a solidity which was never apparent at Fulham.

Whereas last week the back four looked as if they’d only been introduced to each other for the first time in the car park before the game, on Saturday the revamped unit worked together extremely well and rendered the much vaunted QPR strike-force virtually impotent. Indeed, without Clattenburg’s intervention it’s difficult to see from where the visitors would have found a goal. City, on the other hand, looked sharp and creative, and posed all sorts of problems for the QPR defence, who were hardly helped by the fact that their holding midfield player, Samba Diakite, appeared to be playing the game in slow motion.

Assuming that Hughton can come up with the striker that he has admitted to seeking before tonight’s deadline it would be difficult for even the most curmudgeonly City fan to claim that the club’s dealings in the transfer window haven’t led to a significant upgrading of the squad. While a policy of signing young and hungry lower league players has worked well for the club in the past, the addition of Premier League experience was always going to be an essential prerequisite of an extended stay in the top flight.

What’s more, given the ridiculously inflated prices for British players (are the likes of Matt Jarvis and Steven Fletcher really worth £10m or more?) it’s also good to see the club looking for the better value available in Europe.

The only downside of the late flurry of activity is that more time is needed for the squad to gel fully, which will not be helped by a relatively tough run of early fixtures. However, Saturday has indicated that there could well be a great deal to look forward to when it does.


Previous columns by Robin Sainty