The appeal against the red card shown to Joey Barton against Norwich City was on Wednesday dismissed by the FA, leaving the Queens Park Rangers captain facing a three-game suspension at a critical point in his club’s season. Barton’s ban will take in a crunch relegation tie against Wigan Athletic on January 21, with the Latics currently only two points behind the 17th-placed R’s.
But it is the meeting with Roberto Martinez’s Wigan that looms largest on QPR’s horizon despite being more than two weeks away. With only one Premier League fixture between then and now – QPR’s trip to Newcastle and Wigan’s home game against Manchester City – it is a fixture that will determine much about both sides’ future in the top flight. The absence of Barton boosts Wigan’s hopes of taking much-needed points away from their visit to the capital, for manager Neil Warnock cannot replace Barton’s combination of ability and determination in his current squad.
Warnock has already been active in the transfer market, bringing in Manchester United striker Federico Macheda on loan, and with Adel Taarabt widely expected to leave this month on a more permanent basis than his Africa Cup of Nations sojourn, the chances of the manager bolstering his midfield would appear highly likely. But any player signed would be in compliment to rather than instead of Barton. The former Newcastle midfielder has played 16 games for Rangers this season, missing only two of the 18 league matches for which he has been a QPR player. That he was installed as captain immediately upon arrival further emphasises the importance Warnock places on the 29-year-old.
Barton – who would likely have been rested for the FA Cup match with MK Dons regardless of his suspension – will at least return to the QPR fold in time to place Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers on consecutive weekends in early February. By then, however, QPR could have slipped into the bottom three if results go against them, particularly against Wigan. Barton, irrespective of the original decision to brandish a red card, will be powerless to affect his team’s fortunes on the field in that vital match. By the time he returns QPR may find themselves in the bottom three.
The stage may be set for one of Barton’s teammates to fill the void, or perhaps Warnock has a new signing lined up who could cover for the one-time England international, but, in the long-term, QPR’s Premier League future rests heavily on Barton’s shoulders. Nothing will be decided during his absence, but Barton might be fighting an uphill battle upon his return.
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