Phil Jones calm despite potentially devastating own goal for Manchester United

 

Phil Jones will not beat himself up over the own goal that threatens Manchester United's Champions League place.

Exactly a week after being compared to legendary Italian defender Franco Baresi by Fabio Capello, Jones suffered the harsher side of footballing life at Old Trafford as he turned Nicolas Gaitan's cross into his own net just three minutes into the 2-2 draw with Benfica.

Although United recovered to take the lead, ultimately they had to settle for a point that leaves them needing to avoid defeat against FC Basle next month to reach the knockout phase, where they would almost certainly be condemned to a second seeding and a meeting with another European heavyweight.

Still only 19, Jones could be forgiven for hanging his head in despair.

Instead, the Preston-born player adopted a remarkably mature approach.

"It happens," he said.

"Own goals happen to the best of players. It is just one of those situations where the ball ends up in the back of the net.

"What can you do? There is nothing more to say. It is an unfortunate reaction and the ball has ended up in the back of the net.

"I am not going to let my head drop. You win some, you lose some and then you get on with it. Apart from that I thought I played reasonably well."

In articulating such clear thinking, Jones further strengthened a belief he is destined to become captain of club and country.

It certainly seemed all Capello's words of praise are treated with the same level-headed attitude as the setbacks, which in a way is even more pleasing.

"Listen, it is nice being compared to people like that (Duncan Edwards, Franco Baresi) but I have to keep my head down and put in performances I know I am capable of," he said.

"Hopefully, if I keep playing well for Manchester United and we pick up points to get to the top of the table, I can keep getting into the England squad."

Little wonder therefore when, listening intently as the names are reeled off of four teams United might end up facing should their trip to Switzerland turn out as expected - Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Barcelona - Jones simply shrugs.

"If we have to play Barcelona or Real Madrid we have to play them," he said.

"It is another game, that's all.

"Yes, they are two fantastic teams in the Champions League and have absolutely world class players.

"But they are only human. I am sure we can turn up and give them a game."

Not that Jones is taking anything for granted.

His European experience may be limited to five Champions League games and three England caps - all in different positions - but he is wise enough to know that after claiming a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford on matchday two, Basle will fancy their chances of recording one of the biggest wins in their history.

"Basle won't be a pushover," said Jones.

"This is the Champions League. We are playing against opponents who deserve to be here.

"We know they are no mugs but we have more that enough quality in our side to pick up a point."

Before that though, United have a couple of tricky Premier League fixtures to negotiate, starting with a home encounter against Newcastle on Saturday before a trip to Aston Villa the following week.

The importance of those fixtures cannot be underestimated.

For, as disappointed as United were in the immediate aftermath of last night's game, their desolation was nothing compared with that of neighbours Manchester City, who are on the brink of elimination following their defeat to Napoli.

As City must now back up with a tough trip to Liverpool, for virtually the first time this season, a chink has appeared in their blue armoury.

United can close to two points 24 hours before their rivals head to Merseyside.

Jones knows it is an opportunity that should not be squandered.

"City have done fantastically this season," he said.

"I am not taking anything away from them.

"But they do have some tough games coming up.

"I don't care how good you are, teams can be put under pressure. This is a difficult league to be in.

"It would be nice to reach top spot by Christmas. But it is not essential.

"Don't be writing us off if we are not there by January."

PA

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