City boss Paul Lambert this morning told Rangers boss Neil Warnock to “get his own house in order” before accusing his Canary players of cheating.
In a row that has simmered all week following Joey Barton’s early exit in the Bank Holiday Monday clash at Loftus Road, Lambert has – till now – kept his own counsel.
Warnock, however, was swift to point fingers in all directions – first at Canary midfielder Bradley Johnson who he accused outright of cheating then, yesterday, at Canary skipper Grant Holt who he felt unduly pressured the assistant referee as tempers flared just after the half-hour mark in City’s big 2-1 away win.
“If you look at Grant Holt immediately after he is in the linesman’s ear straight away, before he’s flagged telling him what to do,” said Warnock, speaking after QPR’s appeal against Barton’s three-match ban was dismissed by the Independent Regulatory Commission.
It left the Rs without one of their star turns for the rest of January – and all with QPR’s season starting to go sour form and fortune-wise.
Warnock has long had a bee in his bonnet about Holt. Usually after his sides have lost.
“Ironically enough once the red card is shown you see Holt saying “No you can’t send him off!”. I think that’s fantastic,” was yesterday’s dig. Last season and it was the City skipper’s role in the dismissal of Matthew Connolly in Norwich’s 1-0 win at Carrow Road that found the Rs boss having a pop.
The City skipper was fresh from winning a penalty against Warnock’s beloved Sheffield United the week before.
“I’ve seen the penalty he [Holt] got against Sheffield United last week – and it’s a con, isn’t it?” said Warnock, straying dangerously close to the ‘cheat’ line last season.
“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,” he added.
This morning – speaking ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup third round home clash with Burnley – Lambert decided to have his say. Butt out, was the general gist.
Warnock’s comments were “below the belt”, was another line to note as Lambert defended his players to the hilt. Johnson, famously, added a little more fuel to the fire this week by holding up a card to the cameras at the World Darts Championship to suggest that Barton’s breath stank. Those two won’t be exchanging Christmas cards nor, chances are, will Warnock and Lambert.
“I think some of the comments made about Bradley Johnson have been absolutely ludicrous,” said Lambert, his patience clearly wearing thin.
“He is my player – and he is certainly not a cheat,” he said. “If you’re going to label someone as that, have a bit of substance to it. Get your own house in order first, because he’s certainly not a cheat.”
The two players clearly went head-to-head in the centre circle. Lambert was the first to admit that he saw no evidence of a full-blown head-butt – his anger, however, was reserved more for the comments and accusations that followed than the incident itself.
“The issue is not the card at the darts – which we’ve spoken about,” said Lambert. “The issue is that he got labelled a cheat – and that’s one thing he certainly is not.
“Spats can happen on the field of play. No doubt about it – I’ve been involved in enough myself. But when someone else comments on my players, that’s when I think I have to step in.
“In the heat of the game, things can happen,” he added, at pains to correct Warnock’s version of events.
“Bradley Johnson never went down – and for someone to say that he went down is totally wrong. Neil’s [Warnock] done his talking on the television and I’m just responding to it. The comments in the aftermath of it were just wrong.
“But I think that’s what happens when you get beat – you try to look for excuses and try to blame everybody else. My lads were excellent last Monday and I don’t have a problem with any of them.”
All of which came to over-shadow tomorrow’s FA Cup clash with Burnley and Norwich’s latest effort to make the fourth round; the last 14 years have only produced two occasions in which City have troubled the fourth round draw.
Injury-wise, Marc Tierney’s groin is likely to rule him out of a swift return, while the on-loan Kyle Naughton is cup-tied. Lambert revealed that he spoke to Spurs boss Harry Redknapp last night and the full-back would not be allowed out to play in the cup competition.
Lambert also ruled out a permanent move for the ex-England Under-21 defender; too pricy was the bottom line.