their success this season
Over the last twenty years or so, the role of the full back has changed…
This season’s Scottish Premiership is apparently going to be dreadfully predictable. Celtic will win the league, Rangers and Aberdeen will battle for second place, while Hibs and Hearts fight it out for the fourth, remaining European spot. According to every newspaper preview, there just isn’t too much up for grabs.
Unless, of course, we consider what’s going on at Rugby Park. Under the stewardship of Steve Clarke, Kilmarnock kicked off their league campaign with a professional 2-0 win over St Johnstone. And unless we’re mistaken, there’s every reason that this team could finish just about anywhere between second and sixth place.
Indeed, Killie are this season’s wild card and at the heart of their side is a very special player in Jordan Jones. Despite rumours depicting his departure, the Northern Ireland international has stuck around in Ayrshire this summer and perhaps more so than any other player in Clarke’s team could go on to characterise the potential upset Kilmarnock could cause a rather settled division.
To consider the importance of Jones and what he could bring to the Premiership this season we first have to acknowledge the platform Clarke has built at Rugby Park to allow creative players to flourish.
While some may have predicted doom when Youssouf Mulumbu left the club this summer, the truth of the matter is that Clarke and his backroom staff have done exceptionally well to keep just about his entire team from last season – minus the aforementioned midfielder – in Ayrshire. Sure, Gordon Greer, may have moved on along with Steven Smith, but for the most part Clarke still has the players and system that proved so effective in the last campaign.
What that means is the same, defensive structure put in place to frustrate and limit opposing teams while a select, few attacking players are given the time and space to thrive at their particular skills. And in Jones, Kilmarnock have a player that can dribble, cross and shoot as well as any midfielder in Scotland.
Counter attacking is all well and good when you have the players to break at speed and in notable unison, but what also works just as well is when you have one player that can essentially take on an opposing defence single-handedly. That’s basically what Jones can and often does do for Kilmarnock.
Last season, Jones averaged 13.11 one-vs-one dribbles per match for Kilmarnock. That figure had him sitting second only to Celtic’s Patrick Roberts. It’s also worth noting that he was the only player in the Premiership top 10 that played more than 2000 minutes for his club last season. So, not only was Jones skipping past defenders with more frequency than some of the league’s best super subs but he was also doing it over a much longer period of time.
For perspective, Kilmarnock’s second most frequent dribblers were Eammonn Brophy and Chris Burke, yet neither could come close to their Northern Irish teammate. Brophy was second with 7.06 per 90 minutes, while Bruke came close in third with 6.69 per 90. Yet neither were anywhere near the kind of numbers Jones was averaging last season. And we should expect more of that this season too.
Jones isn’t exactly a playmaker. Last season he only picked up four assists in the league and his key passes average isn’t the best in the Killie squad, but what he does do is disjoint opposing defences with his dribbles and often finds a direct route to goal by either crossing the ball in to the box or a shot on goal.
In last season’s league season Jones hit 65 shots. That figure puts him second only to Kris Boyd in the Kilmarnock squad, yet the winger comes out on top when we consider how many of those shots were from outside the box. Of the 65, 39 came from outside the box – Boyd hit 31 – which goes to show just how direct the 23-year old is in his play.
Similarly, Jones attempted 111 crosses in 2,739 minutes of Premiership football last season. While Kilmarnock right back Stephen O’Donnell tips him slightly with 117, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of O’Donnell’s would have come from the relative safety of his full back position, while Jones tended to get to the byline or skip past an opposing player first. And at 111, Jones tips Premiership proven players like James Forrest or Gary Mackay-Steven in this particular metric.
Indeed, Clarke and Kilmarnock essentially have a one-man counter attacking machine on their books when it comes to Jones. Not only is he an exceptional dribbler of the ball, but he can find a shot or a cross as well as anyone in the division. And when a team are trying to apply some pressure to Kilmarnock and find themselves pushing their back line further up the park, a player like Jones is exactly the opposite of what you’d like to deal with when the ball bounces back to Clarke’s team.
Sure, Boyd is the talisman and figurehead of this team, and there are other exciting players, such as O’Donnell, Brophy or Greg Taylor to get excited about too, but it’s Jones that perfectly encapsulates Kilmarnock’s spirit and determination to upset the odds each and every week. And it will be his contributions to this team over the coming season that defines where Kilmarnock ultimately end up in the league table.