Manchester United defender Phil Jones eyes winning return to Blackburn Rovers

 

Phil Jones was part of the Blackburn barrier that has proved so difficult for Manchester United to knock down over the years - but it is the memory of the Red Devils' title celebrations at Ewood Park that persuaded the defender to switch clubs.

Jones was only a raw teenager when he made his first appearance against Sir Alex Ferguson's men, a goalless draw in 2010 that effectively ended any hope United had of overhauling Chelsea for the championship.

The same outcome last term had totally different consequences as a late Wayne Rooney equaliser proved enough to clinch that record 19th championships.

United began their party on the field as soon as the final whistle blew. And Jones wanted a piece of the action.

"That is exactly why I left," he said.

"I had some fond memories from my time at Blackburn and there are some wonderful people at the club.

"But I wanted to win trophies and become part of a team with a massive background, which United have.

"To lift that trophy at the end of the season would be a wonderful achievement for me."

Yet Jones' status as a Blackburn player from his youth days allows him to provide an insight into why United have struggled so badly at Ewood Park.

Although they have managed four wins on their last 11 visits to Liverpool, five from the same number of away games at Manchester City, substantially more than that at Bolton and Everton and won every game they have played against Wigan, United have claimed just two wins from 11 trips to Blackburn.

It is a strange statistic, and one Jones knows the hosts will be eager to improve on Monday night.

 "It is a really tough place to go to start with, and it is Manchester United," he said.

"It is a local derby and the build-up is all about pressing and how you can stop them from playing. It will be no different this week.

"They will be getting their tactics sorted and we need to be right at the top of our game to overcome that."

Jones has kept in touch with a number of former team-mates since his £17million move to Old Trafford.

Communication has ceased this week, although the banter will probably start up again as soon as the final whistle is blown.

"I keep in contact with quite a few of the lads and I have spoken to a few of the lads," he said.

"They are a great bunch and will always be my friends.

"But not in the last week. I don't want to give anything away - and nor do they."

Prior to the previous meeting between the two sides in December, it seemed certain that Blackburn would have a new manager by now.

Steve Kean had come in for fearful abuse during a home defeat to Bolton and although Rovers responded by gaining a point at Liverpool, it seemed nothing more than a stay of execution.

Unbelievably, Blackburn then won at Old Trafford, beginning an improvement that took Rovers to the brink of safety before last week's loss at Bolton dragged them back to the edge of trouble once more.

Even so, Kean deserves credit for guiding Rovers to their present status given Blackburn were bottom on Christmas Day, the position that almost always signals ultimate disaster.

"They had a really tricky start to the season," said Jones.

"Steve Kean got a lot of stick and came under a lot of pressure.

"But you don't hear a lot about Blackburn or their manager these days. He has turned it around and deserves a lot of credit for that.

"He got the players working the way he wants them.

"They have picked up a lot of victories lately and we need to be aware of that going into the game."

It marks the second of four matches out of five against teams deep in trouble.

The first was the five-goal demolition of Wolves a fortnight ago.

No-one is expecting a repeat of that, least of all Jones.

"No game is easy in the Premier League," he said.

"The teams we have got coming up are scrapping for their lives.

"It is nice to be top but we can't keep looking at the table because we have a long way to go before we are anywhere near to picking up that trophy."

PA

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