Norwich City boss Lambert steers clear of Barton headbutt storm
Paul Lambert declined to get embroiled in the fall out from Joey Barton's pivotal sending off in yesterday's battling 2-1 Premier League comeback win for the Canaries against QPR at Loftus Road.
Rangers boss Neil Warnock labelled Bradley Johnson 'a disgrace' for his role in Barton's first half exit whilst the QPR skipper took to his personal Twitter account within an hour of the final whistle to proclaim his innocence.
Barton was red carded ten minutes prior to the interval for an alleged headbutt on the City midfielder that sparked a minor melee before referee Neil Swarbrick sent the former Newcastle midfielder off after consulting his assistant in front of the Main Stand.
The outspoken Liverpudlian had lashed his side ahead from Clint Hill's cut back. Anthony Pilkington levelled in the first half and Norwich's second half substitute Steve Morison swept home a winner in the 83rd minute. Lambert maintained a diplomatic post-match silence when pressed for his version of the events leading up to the major flashpoint.
'I've not seen the incident,' said Lambert. 'I've not spoken to the boys about it either. I just said, 'Well done' and left them to it in the changing room. This is a really tough place to come but I thought we did enough to win the game. I thought we had started the game really well and we had got a foothold in the game and then they get a really good goal against the run of play. I thought we were making pretty decent use of the extra man in the second half and the substitutions helped us make the difference.'
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Warnock was predictably less reticent and highly critical of Johnson's part in Barton's dismissal after the duo had tangled in the centre of the park.
'It's not easy to speak about it if I'm honest without getting carried away,' he said. 'It seems to happen every single time we play Norwich – getting people sent off wrongly and all the decisions going against us. I thought my lads were fantastic and it takes a lot of stuffing out of you. What's that they say? Cheats never prosper. Bradley Johnson has never been headbutted at all. Not in a million years. Okay the heads are together but the movement of him (Johnson) going backwards has conned the linesman. The referee hasn't seen it. I think he has guessed. Because the lad has gone back you presume he has been headbutted. Then to rub salt in the wounds he starts rubbing his nose as if he is feeling for blood. I think it's a disgrace personally. There was two vicious tackles on Joey which were never booked. I find it amazing.'
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Warnock stopped short of suggesting Norwich set out to deliberately wind up his temperamental skipper.
'No, I don't think Paul Lambert is like that,' he said. 'But I've seen Bradley Johnson do that a few times in the past so it doesn't surprise me. He's done great if you think you can wind somebody up. Joey could've avoided the situation but football is football. He is not daft enough to headbutt somebody with all the cameras around. I've not got any confidence in the appeals procedure. I just think all round we have been mugged and conned. The referee has not seen it so you can't blame him. To get a fellow professional sent off; I think he should be done.'
Lambert preferred to focus on another priceless victory that moved the Canaries ten points clear of the bottom three.
'It just keeps the wolves away from my door,' he said. 'I always thought it was going to be hard with the amount of games over the Christmas period. We had really hard games at Wolves and Everton, Spurs was another and Fulham and now this one. It's relentless but I think we have coped brilliantly. The lads have been great. They are brilliant to work with. They never give me a minute's problem. They are a close group and they are all in it together. The main objective for this club is to stay in the league. I'll take one game at a time but if this club survives in its first year it will have been monumental for us.'
Lambert shuffled his pack again with five changes from the weekend Premier League draw against Fulham. Adam Drury was recalled in place of injured first choice Marc Tierney and back up Kyle Naughton whilst Simon Lappin earned his first start of the season on the left-hand side of a midfield diamond.
'Simon probably never expected it,' said Lambert. 'He has never let me down. It is the same situation with Adam (Drury). They are the same type of characters. They never moan, they just get on with it. Great professionals. I thought Simon did well for the amount of time he was on the pitch. He only found out about 1:55pm he was playing.'
Lambert also reserved special praise for Dani Ayala who turned in a commanding performance alongside Zak Whitbread at the heart of a stout Norwich backline.
'He was outstanding again. Him and Zak were superb again today,' said Lambert. 'For someone of just 21 years of age he was terrific on the ball and hopefully Daniel keeps progressing at this club and has a great future. He has been excellent for us. He was out for so long with injury, but we have Elliott (Ward) and Vaughany (James Vaughan) to come back as well and that should make us even that bit stronger.'