Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton is – or at least theoretically should be – a changed man if Her Majesties’ correctional facilities are functioning as intended, but that didn’t stop Wolves from trying to stir the obnoxious but hitherto dormant beast in his psyche when the two sides met at Molineux yesterday.
With one eye fixed quite blatantly on a potential red card, Wolves manager Mick McCarthy employed incendiary (and what I’d mark down as decidedly anti-football) tactics to rile Barton, tactics that became apparent as early as the 18th minute.
With the ball breaking in a fairly innocuous area of the pitch, Wolves’ erstwhile enforcer Karl Henry made completely sure that he steamrollered his midfield counterpart with scant focus on regaining possession – the kind of ‘robust’ challenge which, as it turned out, Barton was subjected to on a fairly regular basis throughout the game.
The rough-neck treatment became incrementally more and more vicious as the encounter progressed with Barton enduring no less than eight of these ‘tackles’, culminating with a cheek-shearing high boot from Henry as the game entered it’s final stages.
In testament to the ex-con’s reformation, he kept his head and chose only to argue his point with McCarthy at the final whistle. The pair were seen to leave the pitch immersed in a heated debate and, in an affront to Barton’s perfectly understandable ire, the Wolves manager chose to laugh off the spat in a post-match interview;
“We were only laughing. Joey was complaining about one or two of the tackles. He was suggesting it was a tough game.
I said to him: ‘You are hardly a shrinking violet yourself Joey, so come on!’ I mean, me and him talking about tackles!
He wasn’t suggesting that [he was singled out], he just said something about my team and tackling. I thought, well there’s the pot calling the kettle black!
It wasn’t harsh words. I was laughing at the fact that he even said it.”
McCarthy was naturally also swift to deny any premeditation, shrugging off claims that he had instructed his side to target Barton;
“We have to be competitive but there wasn’t any plan to disrupt them at all. There was a great competitive edge to it, and I love it.
We should have had a penalty when Matt Jarvis was brought down. But they played well, did Newcastle, and it was a fair result.”
I wouldn’t normally choose to defend a player with Barton’s previous – the man is an odious little swine at the best of times – but the rough-arm treatment he was subjected to yesterday was akin to the constant riling you see across the dog shit-strewn parks and marshes of England every Sunday morning, and that never makes for pleasant viewing – even at that Cro-Magnon level of football.
McCarthy’s deliberately provocative tactics failed to elevate him above the level of your average crabbit, bloodshot-nosed pub team manager, although I’m sure he would choose to venture – in his staunch Yorkshire way – that a Premier League point is a Premier League point at the end of the day.