Rangers boss Neil Warnock risked the wrath of an indignant Norfolk nation this weekend as he pointed an accusing finger at Canary hero Grant Holt.
For those tasked with reporting Championship football for a living, Warnock has always given great quote.
And as he reflected afterwards on yesterday’s 1-0 defeat by the Canaries – Rangers’ third in their last five games – so he didn’t disappoint.
The bee in his bonnet this time was an alleged use of the hand by the City skipper as he rolled both body and ball around Rs defender Matthew Connolly.
Suddenly clear on goal, Connolly’s little clip on Holt’s trailing heel was enough for him to see red and leave the league leaders chasing the game with ten men for the final 50 minutes of the contest.
In the event, 11-man Norwich held out to claim another famous festive victory and power on up the table. But for Warnock, that was the game’s key turning point – the missed handball and a free-kick that never was.
“I’ve seen the penalty he [Holt] got against Sheffield United last week,” said the long-time Blades boss, after Holt wriggled free of United skipper Nick Montgomery before tumbling in the box.
“And it’s a con, isn’t it?” said Warnock, straying dangerously close to the line.
“And then today he’s got one of my lads sent off which probably ended up winning them the game – so you’ve probably got to say ‘Well done!’ to him if that’s what you expect.”
There are several points to be inserted here, not least the fact that both Montgomery and Connolly lost their man – once Holt, or any other centre-forward, is goal-side of their defender then the ‘original sin’ lies with the centre-half.
Whatever follows next leaves you at the mercy of the referee. And whilst they remain as card and whistle-happy as they are, then you are playing with fire.
Don’t let your striker get that yard on you; however he gets there – be it via fair means or foul.
And Warnock knows this; it is when the boot is on the other foot that his anger rises. But Holt is cute; smart; street-wise in this division – more so, claimed Warnock, than his own skipper Adel Taarabt, who saw yellow deep into the second-half for an all-too obvious lunge.
“I think referees should be looking at people like Grant Holt a little bit more than Taarabt.
“Taarabt does a thing so obvious but it’s the little sneaky ones that I think the referees should be educated in. It’s not the laws of the game – it’s watching a little pull here or a little tug there. Or going down when you’re blown on.
“It’s little things like that – from the English players as well as the continentals.” Warnock was the first to admit that one manager’s frustration is another manager’s gain.
“They’re probably quite pleased with it in their dressing room,” said the Rs chief.
He did, in fairness, have no complaints about the foul that followed.
“After that [the handball] – no, I have no complaints with that. But he should have been pulled up as soon as he’s handballed it. He’s took the kitchen sink with it – he’s actually gone with his right hand and deliberately done it,” said Warnock, rising ever more to the proffered bait.
“I just expect a little bit more, if I’m honest,” he added.
“And there wasn’t a lot to referee today; it was end-to-end stuff and a hostile crowd – it’s a great atmosphere. It’s a good club. You just hope that with the big decisions you’ve got somebody eho sees them.”
The Canaries should, by rights, have put the game to bed long before the final whistle. Twice Chrissy Martin was clear in on goal only for Paddy Kenny to deny him; ditto Wes Hoolahan who could only dink a tame effort into the keeper’s arms in the dying seconds of the game.
At the other end and Norwich had to breathe a huge sigh of relief as a free, Patrick Agyemang header dropped an inch or so the right side of the post as far as the watching Barclay were concerned.
“I think with 11 men we might have had a few more chances,” said Warnock, claiming his side were ‘on the ascendency’ in that second period.
“Agyemang should have scored, but in fairness Paddy [Kenny] has made two or three good saves but you’re going to get that when you’re trying to get an equaliser with ten men.”
Was it the toughest game they have had this season, prompted the standard Championship response.
“They’re all tough games – I don’t think there’s any easy game in this division,” he said, clearly relishing the ‘welcome’ that always awaits him in Norfolk.
“That’s good – you want hostility. You want the fans to try and influence things going your way. And Carrow Road has always been like that. I love it coming here…”