The boy Jones rises to the occasion to show why he is England's coming man
The comparisons between Phil Jones and Duncan Edwards, which began in a casual conversation between Sir Bobby Charlton and Paddy Crerard a month or so back, are premature, of course, much though the 19-year-old's composure always makes him look like the rock in a raging sea which Edwards always was.
No. Where Jones is concerned, the more apposite comparison is the one Sam Allardyce always made when he'd perch on the touchline of the blustery training pitches at Blackburn's Brockhall training ground. It became a standing joke that he'd always call Jones "John Terry" then and he made the comparison publicly after the teenager's commanding debut display in a difficult, attritional match against Chelsea which also had the opposition enthusing about the young man's barreling tackles in the dressing room afterwards.
That was only 18 months ago and last night came a challenge to test even the teenager's appetite for the toughest of them: an England debut at right-back, a position in which Jones had lined up in only once for his 37 career Premier League starts. Jones didn't flinch when asked by Sir Alex Ferguson to fill the position against Bolton last month. The former Balshaws High School pupil, who was still living with his parents in Leyland until this summer, revealed himself as an improbable marauding wing-back, crossing for Wayne Rooney to tap in one of his side's five goals. But a narrow bumpy pitch in eastern Europe, teeming rain, firecrackers and, in Stevan Jovetic, an opponent known in the Fiorentine city where he plays his club football as the best thing since Roberto Baggio – is on another level to a Saturday afternoon at the Reebok. Never mind that this was also the night England needed to set their seal on qualification.
Terry, the player who has spoken so honestly about Jones as the one who "I am looking over my shoulder at", had been in Jones's shoes once upon a time. A febrile foreign atmosphere and England needing a point to qualify for the 2004 finals is what the young Londoner encountered in Turkey when Rio Ferdinand's controversial suspension delivered Terry his third start for England. And though this stadium was no Istanbul cauldron, the individuals bearing down the left flank – the Montenegrins' preferred route of attack – were at least as challenging as those which Terry faced eight years back.
The evidence of Jones's composure arrived before any player in red and yellow had run at him, when the marauding wing-back of the Reebok revealed himself again. Vladimir Bozovic barely seemed to exist as Jones powered past him and lofted a cross which Mladen Bozovic almost fumbled into his own net inside two minutes. It would have been one of the fastest goals a new England defender has ever scored.
The boot was soon on the other foot, as Jones knew it would be from the minute he saw Jovetic and his flowing locks line up against him. The game wasn't 10 minutes old before Jones was flat on his backside on the greasy turf, Simon Vukcevic danced around him playing in Mirko Vucinic, the individual England knew most threatened them.
It was Scott Parker, rather than Terry, who contributed most to seeing Jones through this baptism, though. Parker's interventions when Montenegro threatened his flank contributed again to the sense that England might have fared better last summer had Fabio Capello appreciated his ability sooner.
The picture wasn't quite as pretty where Theo Walcott is concerned. The sight of Jones, gesturing to him where he ought to have been, revealed a teenage debutant wise beyond his years. Walcott cast a glance at Capello after one of Jones's corrective messages. The manager's signal confirmed that the 19-year-old had had it right.
The challenge was fairly unceasing. It took some sangfroid for Jones to duck into a ball cast long across the field for Jovetic, with the danger man lurking on his shoulder, to head it back to the safety of Joe Hart. He also got a break with one of his less precise challenges on Jovetic in the penalty area at 2-1.
It was a clear glimpse of the future, though. Jones is too assured a centre-half to be anything other than that when England take a heavy weight of expectations into another tournament next summer. In next month's friendlies with Spain and probably Portugal, expect him to shuffle five yards into the boots Gary
Cahill filled last night, now that his pedigree is assured.
For now, though, he has revealed his fearlessness. "One of my strong points is that, no matter what anyone says about me, it will not affect me," Jones said this summer. "It's because I believe in my ability and what I can achieve." The grounds for this confidence are patently clear. Allardyce called it right.
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