An 83rd minute strike from second-half substitute Steve Morison proved enough to earn the Canaries their second away success of the season this afternoon and sweep the Norfolk side back up to ninth in the Premiership table.
Tomorrow’s headlines will, however, once again be dominated by Joey Barton after the controversial Rs midfielder first opened the scoring for the home side, before getting himself sent off ten minutes before the break for an off the ball incident with City’s Bradley Johnson.
Within little more than five minutes Anthony Pilkington’s arrowed finish from well outside the box had pulled City level, before Morison finally made the Canaries one-man advantage count seven minutes from time. Once again, Elliott Bennett was the provider.
It leaves Paul Lambert’s men nine points clear of the drop zone with the second-half of the season to go.
More importantly, it keeps the whole club buzzing going into the New Year – as opposed to Rangers who are fast heading south for the winter and now face life without Barton in their midst as he faces a potential three-match ban for his latest indiscretion.
As much as there is a talent there, Barton is invariably a disciplinary accident waiting to happen; it doesn’t take much to light his fuse and if Johnson was sent out under instruction to wind his opposite number up, the plan worked a treat.
Replays might suggest that the Rangers’ skipper was hard done by; that the alleged ‘clash of heads’ never actually materialised. But all too often its reputation that counts – and that may well have counted against Barton as he squared up to first Zak Whitbread and then Johnson in the centre circle.
Needless to say, it also had the added benefit of winding Neil Warnock up again as his best-laid Premiership survival plans continued to unravel at an uncomfortable rate of knots.
Quizzed afterwards, Warnock was told that it was the assistant referee that saw Barton “head-butt” Johnson. Apparently.
“He’s just presumed – I think he’s guessed, if I’m honest,” said Warnock, clearly riled. Much to Norfolk’s delight, no doubt.
“Who says cheats don’t prosper,” added Warnock, warming to his theme. “I think Bradley has conned everybody today – we feel like we’ve been mugged.
“The heads are together, but I don’t think Joey Barton would have gone down had it been the other way round. And that’s the difference.”
At least Blackburn’s home defeat by Stoke – fresh from that extraordinary win at Manchester United – kept the pressure on the embattled Steve Keen. Likewise Wolves’ late home defeat by Chelsea.
Both results keep Norwich motoring in the right direction as their nearest and dearest start to get stuck in the January mire.
No such worries for Lambert; his principal concern will revolve around squeezing every last penny out of the board this month as he seeks to give his current squad of players ‘a helping hand’ with the arrival of a fresh face or two. Premiership-style wages permitting, of course.
“I thought we were excellent today – outstanding,” said the City chief, speaking to the BBC afterwards. “This is a really tough place to come; a really tough place to get points. But our record against QPR is very good.”
He toed the usual, Arsene Wenger line on the dismissal.
“I’d have to see it again,” he said. “Obviously Barton scores a good goal for QPR and that put us on the back foot, but we got a grip of it again and had a couple of chances ourselves.
“But sendings offs can work for you – or go against you.”
Today’s success also proved how well the manager has kept his whole squad pulling in the same direction – not only was there a start for both Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson, but Lambert also found room to start Bennett, Adam Drury and Simon Lappin.
As ever, playing against ten men is not without its problems. Nor did Norwich wholly control the second-half. Indeed, John Ruddy proved to be the busier of the two keepers – in particular, when the City No1 was forced to tip an Adel Taarabt free-kick against a post.
But in the end, numbers prevailed as Morison swept the winner home. It has been a very good festive spell for Norwich and all looks set fair for 2012.