Jones impresses pundits with spirited comeback
As Phil Jones cut out Francisco Trincao’s cross from the right wing in the opening minute of Manchester United's 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, he signified the end of an almost two-year journey.
His headed clearance was met with cheers and applause around Old Trafford, which was as much a recognition of his determination to return as it was for dealing with the threat posed by the Portuguese winger.
It was Jones's first senior appearance for the Reds in 707 days, a run that stretches back to 26 January 2020, when he scored against Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park in a 6-0 FA Cup fourth-round win.
During his absence, he has faced numerous challenges with injury, but the defender looked as if he had never been away as he put in a spirited performance to mark his comeback.
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Showing little sign of any rustiness, Jones also dealt with a Nelson Semedo ball across the box early on when Daniel Podence was waiting over his shoulder to pounce.
Meanwhile, just after the half-hour mark, the 29-year-old stole the ball high up the pitch and allowed Mason Greenwood to carry it forward and so nearly carve out a scoring opportunity.
In the final minutes of the first half, Jones also provided a vital intervention when the ball was driven towards Trincao in the six-yard box. Alive to the danger, he got himself in front of the attacker and turned the ball away to deny Wolves any chance of a goal.
Jones also won a free-kick in a dangerous area when he was hauled down on the left-hand side of the pitch in the second period. From that set-piece chance it looked as if United had scored the opener when Cristiano Ronaldo nodded the ball home – but the goal was ruled out after the linesman flagged for offside.
It was cruel on Jones that he was the last United player to touch the ball before Wolves scored. The no.4 nodded an Adama Traore cross away from the immediate danger zone in the penalty area in the closing stages, but the headed clearance dropped to Joao Moutinho who volleyed home for the visitors from long range.
Undeterred and sticking to his task, Jones battled hard to dispossess Podence on the edge of the box as the attacker looked to add a second goal for his team late on.
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In the last minute of play, Jones won another attacking free kick as he put his body on the line on the edge of the Wolves penalty area, as Fabio Silva’s boot connected with his head. Agonisingly, Bruno Fernandes’s subsequent shot was saved by Jose Sa.Despite the defeat, completing the 90 minutes was perhaps a landmark moment in the career of Jones, having overcome so many setbacks to at last return to the Reds' starting XI.
Speaking on MUTV after the match, former centre-back David May declared his admiration for Phil's display. "Considering the amount of time he's been out with injuries, I thought he was absolutely brilliant. He did ever so well. If there's any positives out of tonight, that's certainly a positive. I thought he was fantastic."
May's fellow pundit, ex-United Women goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain added: "Looking at the pressure he would have been under mentally, for him to go out there and put in a good performance like the one he did... even at the very last minute, to be up there and winning the free-kick that could have got his team a point, it's full credit to him as an individual. For how he's conducted himself over this period and how he's managed to produce this performance on the pitch."