Friday, April 20, 2012

How Brad Jones has gone from loan ranger to Liverpool's man with the gloves at Wembley

Having conceded three cheap goals, David James once claimed that he was not ready after coming on as a sub for England in a friendly against Denmark.

The former Liverpool goalkeeper had no excuse considering he was playing under Sven Goran Eriksson, who was infamous for his obsession with substitutes in friendlies.

For Brad Jones, a little rustiness can be forgiven considering the extraordinary couple of weeks Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper has had.

Before the Reds’ game against Newcastle at the start of the month he wasn’t even on the bench, now Jones will be keeping sticks for Liverpool in their first FA Cup date at Wembley for 15 years.

After spending much of his 10-year career playing back-up in the Premier League and spending time on loan elsewhere, it is a prime example of expecting the unexpected.

Brad Jones was born in Perth, Western Australia, on March 19, 1982 and learned his keeping trade at local side Bayswater City. After turning 17, the 6ft 3in stopper joined Middlesbrough in 1999.

Following a short stint at Irish side Shelbourne, the Antipodean made his football league debut during a loan spell at League One side Stockport in December 2002. It was one to forget however, as County lost 4-1 at home to Bristol City and he never played for the club again.

Two more loan spells away from the Riverside Stadium followed in the 2003/04 campaign. First a two-month deal at Rotherham at the start of the season where he didn’t play a game, then at Blackpool.

At Bloomfield Road, Jones began to show potential. In the seven games he played, Blackpool won five of them 1-0, while the other two were 1-0 defeats.

Middlesbrough recalled him and on January 3, 2004, Jones finally made his Boro debut in a 2-0 FA Cup win at home to Notts County. Four days later he made his Premier League debut in a 2-1 win against Fulham.

But the return of Mark Schwarzer soon relegated Jones to understudy once again although despite not playing a single minute in the competition, Jones picked up a winners’ medal in Boro’s 2004 Carling Cup success.

The following season Jones returned to Blackpool on loan before featuring in five league games for Middlesbrough at the back end of the term.

The 2005/06 campaign suggested Jones was going to make his breakthrough at Middlesbrough after featuring 16 times, but the following season once again had him going on loan, this time to Sheffield Wednesday.

During his 15-game run at the Championship side a series of below-par performances saw him targeted by the home fans and in a 3-2 win against QPR at Hillsborough the keeper was even pelted with coins.

But good news followed the end of the season as in June 2007 the Australian was called up to earn the first of, so far, two international caps in a friendly against Uruguay.

However, just like at Stockport five years earlier, it was a disaster. The Socceroos lost 2-1 after Jones spilled a cross late on in the game that allowed Alvaro Recoba to head home.

Domestically he was on the rise though. Nearly 10 years after joining the club, Jones finally became first-choice for Middlesbrough after Schwarzer departed for Fulham in 2008, but injury meant he didn’t become a regular until mid-season.

The campaign ended in disaster for Boro though, with the club relegated from the Premier League after an 11-year stay. Jones featured 22 times throughout the year and maintained his place for the following campaign in the Championship.

His resulting form in England’s second tier warranted international recognition once more and he was called up to Australia’s squad for the 2010 World Cup – but tragedy would strike.

The keeper pulled out of the squad after it was revealed his four-year-old son, Luca, had been diagnosed with leaukaemia. The youngster sadly passed away in November last year following an 18-month battle against the illness.

On the pitch, Jones returned to the Premier League in August 2010 after new Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson snapped him up as understudy to Pepe Reina for £2.3million – but his unfortunate debuts continued to plague him.

The stopper’s first night in a Reds shirt came during Liverpool’s shock third round Carling Cup exit to Northampton on penalties at Anfield. Although he was largely blameless for the defeat, any positives gained from the game were muted by the hysteria over Liverpool’s poor start under Hodgson.

Jones featured once more that season in a 0-0 Europa League draw against Utrecht before going on loan to Championship side Derby for the rest of the 2010/11 campaign. It was a largely unsuccessful spell as the keeper again conceded four on his debut at Cardiff, but worse was to come.

On April 30, 2011 during a 2-0 defeat against Bristol City (a bogey team it seems), the keeper allowed an effort to squirm under his body after just six minutes, with manager Nigel Clough claiming the error had demoralised the team – it proved to be his seventh and final game for the Rams.

New Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish also lost faith in the keeper by signing Brazilian international Doni to act as back-up for Reina last summer. For Jones, his Anfield career looked over before it had even really started.

The poor showing against Bristol City at Pride Park was his last competitive appearance before his re-emergence at Blackburn on Tuesday night.

While his penalty save was admirable in the way he outfoxed former Middlesbrough team-mate Yakubu, Jones looked every inch a goalkeeper who hadn’t played in a year.

Some shaky catches and untidy stops went unpunished, but his howler to push Yakubu over and concede another penalty showed his lack of playing time. Andy Carroll’s late winner for Liverpool will ensure his rusty gloves will be overlooked though.

It’s been an incredible fortnight for Jones which has seen him return to the squad and then make his Liverpool league debut. But the best news the 30-year-old has received is his partner, Dani Lawrence, giving birth to another son, Nico Luca Jones.


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