Competition is on, now Jones must dictate his Pompey future

Paul Jones. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Jones. Picture: Joe Pepler

Sat in the foyer at the Dona Filipa Hotel, Paul Jones reflected on an unbroken Pompey season.

A clean sweep of 52 matches during a maiden Fratton Park campaign was testimony to both his consistency and determination to retain the prized spot.

On the eve of the January visit of Burton, or it may have been Southend, he dislocated a finger for the first time in his career.

The injury was sustained when he attempted to catch a ball in training.

Inevitably, the setback was shrugged off by the 29-year-old, who subsequently ran out at Fratton Park with his injury taped up beneath the gloves he sported.

Then there was the occasional groin concern which threatened his Blues participation.

‘There were a couple of games where every time I was kicking a ball it was like someone was sticking a knife into me,’ he explained in a rare interview, conducted during Pompey’s Algarve stay in July.

‘I had stuff like that and that is where Duggo (physio Sean Duggan) is really good. He can manage the stuff for you and get you through. He deserves a lot of credit.’

Indeed, having signed a three-year Pompey deal in June 2014, he was an ever-present in the disappointing campaign which unfolded.

Reliable, dependable, commanding in the air, sensational at Stoke in the Capital One Cup, although beaten from distance on occasions and possessing concerns over his kicking.

Nonetheless, Jones can rightly be pleased with his first 12 months at the Blues in a position where previous failings contributed to the managerial downfall of Guy Whittingham.

Most of all, his proud record stretching back to February 18, 2012 was rigidly intact. In terms of successive career appearances, his tally had been extended to an impressive 173 matches.

The keeper remains uncomfortable giving interviews, particularly in front of video cameras, yet at that moment, with the glorious Vale do Lobo sunshine beating down outside, he was relaxed and willing.

And his pride at being a first-team ever-present during spells at Peterborough, Crawley and then Pompey for almost three-and-a-half years shone through.

Last Saturday, however, the outstanding run ended.

Brian Murphy had already dislodged Jones for a friendly at a rain-soaked Woking – a match which yielded a first clean sheet of the pre-season programme.

Ominously, the ex-Exeter man watched from the bench along with skipper Paul Robinson, the duo among three unused substitutes.

A week later Robinson had departed for AFC Wimbledon in search for more regular football.

As for Jones, a stomach upset for Murphy provided him with a free hit at Gillingham and he responded with a clean sheet in a goalless draw.

A week later, Murphy was installed for Pompey’s League Two opener against Dagenham & Redbridge – barely 24 hours after penning a six-month deal.

Suddenly Pompey have a manager eager to push forward a challenger for the goalkeeping spot. Now Jones faces a Pompey career-defining battle to get back.

There is no suggestion he has been bombed out or marginalised, a theory surely destroyed by his starting appearance against Derby County on Wednesday night.

Jones was one of seven changes for the impressive 2-1 Capital One Cup victory over the Championship side at Fratton.

Yet Murphy is set to return to today’s side at Plymouth Argyle, along with the majority of that team which defeated the Daggers 3-0.

Cook has felt the need to stoke up the competition in the goalkeeping ranks, with Michael Poke firstly departing for a six-month loan at Eastleigh.

Now it’s the turn of Jones, a player guilty by association after Pompey’s defence last season conceded 63 goals in all competitions.

With Cook assembling a side to challenge for promotion, it’s a figure which must be reduced considerably if the Blues are to realise any such ambition.

Incidentally, of the 14 players who featured in an often-susceptible defence last season, only Adam Webster, Jack Whatmough and, of course, Jones presently remain.

Whatmough is injured until around Christmas, Webster continues to impress in his favoured position and is highly-regarded by Cook.

As for Jones, he is scrapping it out with Murphy – and at the minute the Irishman has the upper hand.

The manager has applied the pressure to the only ever-present in Pompey’s squad last season and what happens next is going to be intriguing.

The ex-Peterborough keeper must either raise his game or accept defeat and potentially cast an eye elsewhere in search of regular football.

That’s the beauty of competition, with surely Pompey and their promotion plan benefitting considerably as a consequence.

Let’s also not overlook the financial implications of a benched goalkeeper on good first-team regular wages 
with two years remaining on his contract.

That may yet have a crucial bearing on how the situation develops as the season unfolds.

Importantly, though, Cook knows plenty about Murphy, a keeper who starred for Bohemians during an era when he managed League of Ireland rivals Sligo Rovers.

Now aged 32, the visit of the Daggers was only his second Football League start since December 2010, highlighting a career which has stalled and requires the application of the jump leads.

Fratton Park has offered that prized opportunity following four fruitless seasons at QPR.

Back in July, Jones uttered: ‘I know it will come to an end.

‘Whether that is through lack of form or injury, it will come to an end soon.’

Instead it is good, old-fashioned competition which has accounted for his absence from the starting line-up.

Over to Jones then to resolve the situation, however way he sees fit.