JORDAN Jones has been one of the bright lights at Kilmarnock over the past two and a half years since he arrived at Rugby Park following his release from Middlesbrough.
The winger was the main bright spark during a mediocre spell for the club under Lee Clark then Lee McCulloch, before excelling further under Steve Clarke’s revolution that has taken Killie from relegation material into contenders for, at least, a Europa League spot. His ability to taking on full backs, supplying ammunition for the forwards and chipping in with a few special goals, Jones has become a firm favourite with the Kilmarnock support.
Recently, that special relationship he’s built up has turned sour with the announcement that he is to join Rangers at the end of the season under freedom of contract.
For any fans of clubs outwith Celtic and Rangers, it’s never a nice thing to hear that one of your best players is about to leave for one of those two sides, and Kilmarnock fans are no different. It’s especially difficult at a time where Kilmarnock are, currently, genuine title contenders as they sit just a point behind the top two. That scenario makes you wonder if Jones, who is a winger that is subject to special treatment from opposing players trying to nullify his threat, will be as fully committed knowing that he is on his way to Ibrox and will be wary about picking up an injury before his move.
What really angered Killie fans, however, was a tweet from Jones whilst the ink was still drying on his contract, which highlighted his delight at his pending moved and signed “WATP (we are the people).” The tweet smacked of complete disrespect on his part and Killie fans were right to be up in arms over his conduct. Jones did try to rectify the situation with another tweet indicating his immediate commitment to Kilmarnock, but the damage was already done.
Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke hauled Jones in front of the media last week for the press conference ahead of their home Scottish Cup tie against Forfar. It was a clever move by Clarke to try and defuse the situation, getting the winger to show his remorse for his Twitter activity and putting out the “if you boo him you boo me” line to put the matter to bed.
Whilst it was a positive move to shift focus back on the team for the Forfar game, which they won 2-0, the biggest test of Jordan Jones current commitment to Kilmarnock Football Club comes on Wednesday night when his future employers visit Rugby Park.
It is a key match between the second and third placed teams in the title race that could have ramifications for either side if they slip up and fall further behind. Whilst it’s easy to say that Rangers are under greater pressure to deliver three points as they are the side more fancied by the media to stop Celtic clinching eight consecutive titles, it’s a massive game for Kilmarnock to keep up the pressure and keep belief amongst their fans that they can emulate the recent achievements of Leicester City and deliver an unlikely League title.
Killie’s record under Clarke is incredible. He took them from joint bottom to a comfortable fifth within seven months of taking the job and his side took more League points than any other in the calendar year for 2018. He’s also masterminded two victories against the Ibrox side, along with two against Celtic, so there’s every reason why Kilmarnock should not be taken too lightly.
If they are to do the unlikely and win a first title in 53 years, or what most people expect in qualifying for Europe, they need all their players to be on their game to give them a greater chance of a successful season. Killie’s cause has not been helped by the loss of Greg Stewart, controversially recalled by Birmingham from his loan spell, only to be shipped back out to fellow top four rivals Aberdeen, also still in title contention.
They need Jordan Jones to be bang on form between now and the end of the season if they are to meet or exceed their expectations for the season, the big question is will he be?
There have been many examples of players downing tools in the final months of their contract after putting pen to paper with another club. Steve McManaman’s Liverpool form nosedived when it was announced he was going to Real Madrid in 1999, Ian Murray and Gary Caldwell were similar after agreeing to leave Hibs for Celtic and Rangers respectively in the mid noughties. However, there are examples to the rule, like Graeme Shinnie putting his move to Aberdeen to one side to focus on leading Inverness Caledonian Thistle to Scottish Cup glory in 2015 and Charlie Nicholas scoring a Scottish Cup Final penalty against Celtic in 1990, even though he knew a miss would send his next employers into Europe. Time will tell if Jones is as good as his word in that respect.
Actions speak louder than words and if Jordan Jones wants to leave Kilmarnock on good terms in May, a fine performance terrorising his future Captain James Tavernier on Wednesday in helping Killie defeat Rangers once again would be a good start to that process.