Football: Jones fit for a battle

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The Independent Online
THE WALES goalkeeper Paul Jones last night admitted that it is a miracle he is in Italy at all.

The Southampton No 1 will step out for his country against the Italians tomorrow in a Euro 2000 Group One qualifier here in Bologna - even though he was not expecting to play again until next season. Jones damaged his back prior to the game with Switzerland in March and spent the rest of that trip, and the return home, in a wheelchair. After returning to The Dell and visiting a specialist, Jones was resigned to sitting on the sidelines throughout the summer.

Jones said: "I was originally told that I was finished for the season after I had a scan that showed I had a slipped disc which was trapping the nerves on the right of my body and affecting my right leg. I'd given up. I was resigned to missing this Wales trip and not being around until next season. I didn't expect to be back to help Southampton in their fight against relegation, but I managed to play in the last two games - we won both and I kept two clean sheets."

It means Jones will now keep up his ever-present European Championship record in the Dall'Ara Stadium. "I had a chat with another specialist and was told I could try an injection, an epidural at the base of the spine," revealed Jones. "It's what they give to pregnant women in childbirth, but if it was going to give me a chance of playing quicker than expected I was all for it. He told me if they get the injection spot on, it could really help. Within an hour or so there was a complete change. There was so much less pain than I'd been experiencing for the previous weeks - it was almost miraculous."

It enabled Jones to go on and play a crucial role in the Saints' final two matches against Wimbledon and Everton, with victories completing another unlikely survival act by the south coast side.

Jones admitted: "We played really well to win at Wimbledon, but the last day of the season when we beat Everton was the big one because they were already safe and had started to play really well. The good end to Saints' season has obviously boosted my confidence and I know it's done the same too for my team-mate Mark Hughes. It means we have joined up with Wales in good spirits, and to find Ryan Giggs with us after he had just won the treble has given us another boost as well."

Jones, who gave up a career in farming to turn professional after a spell with Kidderminster, admitted the Italian game would be tough, but said: "We've got to get stuck into them and made it hard for them."