Photo Gallery: Controversy as Norwich City hit back for victory

QPR 1, Norwich City 2: Trust Joey Barton to fulfil the role of festive pantomime villain at Loftus Road. The Rangers skipper can retreat to social media all he wants to put the case for the defence, with chief witness Neil Warnock steadfastly in his corner.

Both player and manager were adamant there had been no headbutt involving Bradley Johnson in the first half incident that defined this match.

City's midfielder was subjected to what bordered on a character assassination from Warnock in his post-match briefing, with the Yorkshireman muttering about darker forces at work and Johnson's apparent disrespect to a fellow professional.

Barton's reputation may precede him but the officials were adamant the Rangers midfielder had been culpable in the 37th minute altercation which dramatically altered the course of a pulsating contest that had started so positively for the hosts – thanks chiefly to the man himself.

The Scouser's footballing ability is not in doubt. That much was evident again inside the opening 15 minutes after his swerving half volley from Clint Hill's cutback had put Rangers in front against another much-changed Canaries' starting line-up.

Paul Lambert remained true to his unwavering conviction he has enough quality in every nook and crevice of his first team squad.

After Adam Drury was brought back in from the cold against Tottenham, Simon Lappin was the latest selection – one of five changes from the weekend draw against Fulham – to confound pundits and punters alike who attempt miserably to second guess the Scot.

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Lappin was restored to the side for his first start of the campaign in all competitions and only his second outing of the season after a cameo in the Carling Cup defeat to MK Dons.

Drury himself returned at left back in the absence of injured first choice Marc Tierney (groin) with Kyle Naughton dropping to the bench. Simeon Jackson was rewarded for his last-gasp equaliser on Saturday with the call to partner Grant Holt.

Warnock named Manchester United youngster Frederico Macheda on the bench following the completion of his loan move from Old Trafford. First choice keeper Paddy Kenny and centre back Anton Ferdinand also returned after missing the recent 1-0 defeat at Arsenal through injury.

Lambert opted to keep faith with the diamond formation which underpinned Norwich's successful ascent behind QPR from last season's Championship.

Elliott Bennett was pushed forward in the Wes Hoolahan creative role at the point with Bradley Johnson proving a reliable anchor, flanked by Anthony Pilkington and Lappin.

Lappin was at the fulcrum of Norwich's early forays into the QPR half – a whipped free-kick scrambled clear by Danny Gabbidon as Norwich set to work probing down the hosts' right flank, but it was Rangers who profited out wide when Barton calmly despatched Hill's deep cross following an overlapping surge from the defender.

City were behind early for the second time inside three days.

Johnson muscled his way forward, but a thumping left footer brushed Shaun Derry and dribbled through to Kenny. Lappin earned a lecture for a meaty collision with Barton which left Rangers' captain and goalscorer prone in the centre circle.

Holt started to drift deep in search of greater involvement, with Derry clearly detailed to patrol Bennett's darts. The skipper's through ball for the former Brighton man earned a cheap free-kick from Luke Young. Lappin's set piece picked out Johnson who headed over.

City continued to stick rigidly to their faith in the passing game, but Rangers presented a disciplined obstacle in front of Kenny, supplemented by Derry's screening presence. Jackson miscued the visitors' best chance of the opening 30 minutes from eight yards out when Bennett's low centre picked out the unmarked Canadian international.

Given Jackson's predatory instincts so evident again against Fulham it had to go down as an excellent opportunity to draw Lambert's side level.

Holt profited shortly afterwards from elaborate overplay in the Rangers' midfield to feed Jackson who took Gabbidon into the channels before a ricocheted strike deflected behind. City were probing. Rangers looked comfortable. Then the game's main faultline ruptured to irreparably alter the dynamic. Barton and Johnson appeared to tangle as the hosts' advanced. Johnson was left holding his face but play continued - for all of three seconds as Bennett sought instant retribution on the offender.

Players piled in from both sides to act as peacemakers. Referee Swarbrick moved to consult with his assistant referee. Johnson and Barton squared up again in the meantime with the City man clearly riled by the lack of contrition from his direct opponent. Swarbrick's red card in the face of the home skipper only served to heighten the sense of fury amongst the home crowd.

Barely had the first crescendo of dissent died down before Pilkington's sublime left-footed strike from long range arrowed into Kenny's bottom hand corner. The sense of injustice swirled around Loftus Road. Derry upended Holt in first half stoppage time. The two self-appointed shop stewards continued the verbals before Swarbrick called a halt to the proceedings.

Johnson lifted over right at the start of the second period with the key to this game now in City's ability to cash in on their numerical advantage. Shaun Wright-Phillips' half-time introduction signalled Rangers' intent to raid on the counter with Helguson committed to ploughing a lone furrow.

The former England international darted into the Norwich box before picking out Taarabt who hooked wide. Dani Ayala earned the first caution for the visitors with a lunging challenge on Helguson. Taarabt curled up and over the four man wall but John Ruddy was his equal with a flying leap to claw out the Moroccan's effort. Pilkington's search for work inside fashioned an opening for Bennett with a cute back heel, but Kenny grasped. Wright-Phillips then tumbled inside the Norwich box after bursting past Whitbread but Swarbrick stood firm in the face of the baying hordes – all 15,000 of them. Ayala and Whitbread were forced into saving interventions with the ten men continuing to surge forward. This game was firmly in the balance. Lambert played his hand. A triple substitution and a change of formation. Norwich went three at the back to commit more troops into advance positions. David Fox and Johnson offered protection in front of City's defence with Hoolahan now supporting Jackson and fellow second half arrival Steve Morison.

The Welsh international rose above Gabbidon to glance Pilkington's deep cross a yard wide in front of the away support. Ruddy sensed the danger to clear from Macheda. It was breathless stuff; the type Norwich routinely serve up home and away.

And there was another sting in the tail. Hoolahan with the knock down, Morison with the swivel seven yards out to cue wild celebrations in front of the travelling yellow army.

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