It took until added time for Ashley Barnes to define why managers and team-mates love him, but perhaps it had to be then.

The former Burnley man touched the ball 26 times throughout the game. Only three players on the pitch managed fewer, and one of them was the literally untested Asmir Begovic in the Queens Park Rangers goal.

Norwich City's battle-hardened number 10 made his presence felt throughout the fixture, however, and garnered praise from both his head coach David Wagner and team-mate Danny Batth.

"It's unbelievable. It just shows you the hunger and desire that he's got," said Batth 15 minutes after full time. "That's infectious and it rubs off on players, so what a great example from a player who's been out for a while.

"He's worked hard, he's worked his socks off, and credit to him to go and put 90 minutes in. He was centre half next to me at some point, and I was saying 'come on Barnesy, get up'."

The 33-year-old defined what he's known best for when charging into Osman Kakay less than 90 seconds into the contest. His next noticeable involvement was surrendering possession on the edge of his own box, before a shove on Steve Cook denied him the chance to score shortly thereafter.

The fouls didn't stop there, and although it's easy to see the problem with that pattern, they quietly highlighted how he's addressing the issues Wagner was keen to negate this summer. For too long City have been labelled weak, submissive, even a soft touch. But there were few signs of that in Saturday's performance, and Barnes was at the heart of that.

That was the weakness the German cited at the end of last season, and it's the one he's constantly referenced in success or failure this term. Even when pushed to discuss Barnes' technical and physical abilities in the press conference preceding this match, he circled back to the leadership characteristics Barnes would bring on return. 

Those intangibles were what he defined in that typical moment late on, as he scrapped around on the floor, seeing precious seconds slip by opposition confrontation and referee consultation. "Game management", as Batth described it. That's what Barnes was brought to Carrow Road for.

The Pink Un: Barnes epitomised his playing style in the 1-0 winBarnes epitomised his playing style in the 1-0 win (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

But is it really what City need?

For all the talk of experience, know-how, nous, knowing the league and more, where is the data to prove that older means better in the English second division? Where is the proof that worn cliches are correct regarding graduation from the Championship?

Although this performance could be looked at as the example proving how important Barnes is, it can also be seen as proof that stale and tired players lead to stale and tired outings. Assuming this game was always meant to be stodgy means praising the Austrian youth international, but Norwich fans have seen another way in recent years.

It wasn't Teemu Pukki's grit and determination that led him to an easy double as City dismantled QPR in 2019. It wasn't experience and know-how that took Daniel Farke's sides to consecutive league titles and plaudits across the country.

Barnes won no aerial challenges, had no shots on target, completed no dribbles and was on the ball for just 1.5% of the game. Point to experience all you like, but that points to a striker whose impact was slim in contrast to the narrative.

In Wagner's own words, "you can be vocal and speak and play (badly), and this doesn't help". The landscape may have shifted since he said those words in August, but if the principle applied then it must apply now.

By that measure this wasn't the stellar performance those internally would like to believe it was, and improvement is required to help City turn around performances.

Barnes did make contributions and he found his niche in one way, but if there's one thing this display outlined it's that experience and leadership aren't all that matter in football.

VERDICT: Barnes may have brought the intangibles Wagner was hoping for, but he wasn't anywhere near as involved as he should have been in a laboured victory for City.

RATING: 4 out of 10