Patience of Jones pays off with lead role for Owls

SHEFFIELD Wednesday captain Rob Jones will be living the dream when he walks onto the pitch against Sheffield United for Sunday’s Steel City derby.

Jones grew up supporting the Owls but never got to attend a Sheffield derby.

Now he is preparing to lead his side out in a game which could rank as the highlight of his 14-year playing career.

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Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Jones said: “As a little boy, all you ever want to do is play for the club you support. I never expected it to happen and now I am leading out the side in the derby!

“It will be a very special and proud day for me – but I am equally proud every time I lead Sheffield Wednesday out onto the field.”

Jones, 31, was born and raised in Teesside but supported the Owls because his mother’s side of the family were all ‘Wednesday-ites’.

During the late Eighties and early Nineties, he would frequently make the 200-mile round trip from the north east to Hillsborough and watch his favourite side in action.

Looking back, he said: “I used to stand on the Kop and cheer players such as David Hirst, Nigel Pearson, and Roland Nilsson. I have some great memories.

“But I never got to see a Sheffield derby and I remember watching the 1993 Wembley semi-final at home on TV. I have never even played at Bramall Lane,” he added.

After starting his career at non-league Gateshead, Jones had to wait until the age of 23 to get his first professional break at Stockport County.

He spent only one season at Edgeley Park and was loaned out to Macclesfield Town before spending two seasons at Grimsby Town.

In the summer of 2006, he moved north of the border to play for Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League.

During a successful three-year stint in the SPL, he played in the Scottish League Cup final against Kilmarnock watched by 52,000 supporters at Hampden Park. He returned to English football with Scunthorpe United two summers ago and joined the Owls on a free transfer after impressing on loan at the end of last season.

“I suppose I have taken the long road to get where I am now, playing part-time and going via Scotland,” he said. “It has been difficult at times but fruitful.

“Playing in the Scottish League Cup final was probably my biggest game before now. I think Sunday’s game will be just as noisy and possibly intimidating – but we will have the character in our side to be able to deal with that.”

At 6ft 7ins tall, Jones will be the tallest player on the pitch at Bramall Lane. His partnership with Danny Batth at the heart of the Owls defence will be a key element in the game.

Four consecutive victories have lifted the Owls to second in the League One table and morale is high going into the clash.

“It’s great to be where we are in the table but there is an awful long way to go,” he stressed. “We are only two or three months into the season. Do we want to be there at the end of the season? Yes we do.

“But there is a magnitude of work to do and a magnitude of points to accumulate. We are delighted we have collected the amount of points we have so far but the job goes on.

“We have got to continue the way we are going, keep working hard for each other, and keep on doing the right things at the right time,” he added. “We have got to concentrate on the job in hand and we will try as hard as we possibly can to win Sunday’s game.

“Sheffield United have a side full of very good players and the majority have played at Championship level or higher. They will have home advantage and have made a good start to the season.”

Jones is not the only ‘Wednesday-ite’ in the Owls dressing room as winger Chris Sedgwick, goalkeepers Nicky Weaver and Richard O’Donnell and manager Gary Megson also grew up supporting the club too.

“It possibly means that little bit more when you support the team – but everyone in our dressing room knows how important this game is to the fans,” he said.

“Our team is improving all the time and confidence is the main factor,” he said. “Some of the players at this football club don’t realise how good they are yet – but we are slowly finding out where some of these players can go.”

Owls manager Megson will have a number of selection dilemmas for Sunday’s game as defender Reda Johnson and utility player Liam Palmer are both back from international duty. Striker Ryan Lowe could come back into contention after resting the ankle injury which has hampered his progress over the last six weeks and midfielder David Prutton is back training after missing three games with a thigh strain.

On paper, the Owls would appear to have more strength in depth than the Blades who were still trying to finalise loan deals last night for Blackpool duo Billy Clarke and Matt Phillips.

“Only time will tell if other teams have the same strength in depth as us,” said Jones. “We can only answer that question at the end of the season when we see where are and where we end up.

“But we do have an array of very good players. We have got a very strong dressing room, a very strong starting line-up, a very strong bench, and all the players will be needed throughout the season.”