Jones has Wolves' hopes of salvation in his hands

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Living it up is part of the modern footballer's lifestyle, if some of the more lurid tales are to be believed. Paul Jones, the level-headed character who keeps goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers, has been more concerned this week with living it down.

Living it up is part of the modern footballer's lifestyle, if some of the more lurid tales are to be believed. Paul Jones, the level-headed character who keeps goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers, has been more concerned this week with living it down.

Jones previously spend six and a half years at Southampton and has continued to live there since returning to Wolves in January. At Molineux last Saturday, Sod's Law struck with a vengeance when his old team-mate Claus Lundekvam beat him to score his first goal in nearly 300 games for the Saints.

"Next time they had a corner, Claus came up and apologised," the Welsh international said with a rueful smile. "He has never looked like scoring before. He hardly ever did it in training, never mind matches."

Wolves' weary 4-1 defeat, coupled with Leeds' midweek win over Leicester, left them adrift at the bottom of the Premiership. To compound his discomfort, Jones was jeered by a section of the crowd. However, he is adamant that Wolves could yet pull off an improbable escape - and defiant in the face of the vilification.

Today's trip to Manchester City and Monday's visit of Bolton Wanderers, far from being details in an inevitable demise, are still described by Jones as "absolutely huge games". His view is informed by the memory of 1998-99 when he was in a Southampton side under Wolves' current manager, Dave Jones. That Southampton side were in the bottom three of the Premiership from August until May, yet still beat the drop.

"What happened that spring proved that it can be done," Jones said. "We kept believing, working hard in training, and trying to do the right things in matches. Eventually it came right for us."

Wolves, it would appear, urgently need to do an Arsenal in reverse. "This time last week they looked on course for the Treble," Jones said. "All of a sudden they're having a horrendous season with 'only' the title left to go for. That's how quickly things can change. There's still a lot of football to be played; 21 points up for grabs."

At 36, the one-time Shropshire farm-worker is sufficiently acquainted with the fickle ways of football to realise that the villain of last week could just as easily be the hero of today. He is baffled by the abuse he has taken since his £250,000 transfer to Molineux, though it may stem from a feeling among Wolves' supporters that the man he displaced in the goal area, Michael Oakes, had just produced his best form against clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool.

"I felt for Oaksey. We are friends and we train well together. But people have been saying things behind the goals and I don't understand why. I've tried not to be bothered by it, but it has got on my nerves a bit. I'm thinking: 'Hang on. I'm part of the team as well. It would be nice to have some backing'.

"I'm not going to hide or shirk responsibility. If I was a young keeper just starting out, it might get to me. I'm too experienced for that. The fans pay their money and have a right to shout or moan at players. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it took the club so long to get up and now we could go straight back down. It's frustration. But as players we have to stick together and not be divided by the stick.

"It's not as if anyone goes out to play poorly or make mistakes. Things go wrong for the best sides. Look at Milan on Wednesday: world-class players all through the team and they lose 4-0 to Deportivo."

Jones started his second spell with Wolves with a clean sheet at Portsmouth. In the last four matches, though, he has been beaten 14 times. "Sometimes you feel you couldn't have done more but you're still letting in goals. In some cases it's good play by our opponents. In others, we've defended poorly as a team.

"Take when we were 2-1 up after about 70 minutes at Chelsea a fortnight ago. All of a sudden we had five players bombing forward trying for a third goal when there was no need. You get caught on the break and bang! They've scored. Even half-mistakes tend to get punished in the Premiership. These are top-class players."

High-rise ones at that. The weekend before what became a 5-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Wolves' weakness in set-pieces was underlined by Sami Hyypia's stoppage-time winner at Liverpool, with whom Jones fulfilled a long-standing ambition by playing twice for them on loan in the new year. The only six-footers among the old-gold outfielders are the two centre-backs, adding to their insecurity at corners and free-kicks.

"Most teams have five or six giants nowadays. They're really good athletes, too, whereas the tall guys used to be clumsy. You look at people like Patrick Vieira. They're massive. Even Robert Pires, who doesn't look any great size, is a big guy."

The tallest story now would be Wolves kicking off in the Premiership come August. Convinced there are "turns and twists" to come, Jones added: "The next few days could define our season. If, by Monday evening, we've won two and a couple of other clubs have lost two, the whole picture would change. We'd be within touching distance of teams that haven't been under pressure all season."

Kevin Keegan's, for one, in whose ranks will be another custodian recruited during the transfer window, England's David James. "You don't know which City you're going to come up against," Jones said. "Let's hope it's a poor one. Anyone from mid-table down is beatable. They're all inconsistent."

Like Bolton, perhaps. "They probably think they're safe and can't wait for the end of the season. So it's a winnable game. We have to get at teams. If we're going to go down, we have to go down fighting."

The latter remark is a tacit acknowledgement that Wolves' best, even if they can muster it, may simply not be good enough. Jones, who served his namesake at Stockport County as well as Southampton, sympathised with the manager over the relative lack of funding he received last summer.

"The gaffer hasn't had much to spend. Charlton went down and got back up after buying players - they realised they couldn't sustain Premiership football on a shoestring. It's difficult to strike the right balance. You could blow £25m and still find yourself in the same position.

"If we avoid relegation, maybe the club will throw some money at the market. You always have to strengthen." In the meantime, even if Wolves are not exactly living it up, Jones has not stopped living in hope.

Paul Jones factfile

Born: Chirk, mid-Wales, 18 April 1967

Position: Goalkeeper

Height: 6ft 3in

Weight: 14st

Club career: Jones signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers from Kidderminster (the then Conference club had recruited him from Bridgnorth) for £40,000 in 1991; he joined Stockport for £60,000 in 1996 and stayed for one season; he then moved to Southampton in 1997 for £900,000, where he stayed until January this year after losing his place to Antti Niemi. He then went to Liverpool on loan, followed by a £250,000 transfer to Wolves.

Total League and Cup appearances: 341 (plus 2 as substitute).

International career: 37 caps for Wales.

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