SUNDERLAND’S league position may be a concern, but Kenwyne Jones will leave the worrying to others.
From a port town of Point Fortin in south west Trinidad that boasts temperatures that regularly push the mercury over the 30 degree mark, Jones has the kind of sunny disposition that can’t be dimmed by a relegation scrap.
Not that he isn’t determined or driven – just philosophical and realistic about being involved the kind of relegation scrap that Sunderland’s supporters hoped they had outgrown last summer.
At 6ft 2ins and with shoulders as broad as the River Wear, Jones can cope with the physical burden of leading Sunderland’s fight against the drop.
But he is mentally strong enough to cope too – with the expectation, his own dip in form and the twists and turns that will alter the Premier League campaign as it hits the final straight.
For the record, Sunderland have a four-point advantage over Tees rivals Middlesbrough in the final relegation slot – and victory over West Brom today should whittle away at fears their fate will be decided in the final few hours of the season.
Not that Jones, who says he hasn’t studied the league table or the remaining fixtures in any great detail, is any great fan of such leaps of logic.
For him, the priority is meeting the immediate challenge rather than coming to terms with the problems that may lie ahead – and that means beating West Brom rather than worrying how their rivals’ results might affect Sunderland’s chances of staying up.
“Do I look at the league table and the fixtures when I’m at home? No chance. No chance,” he chuckled. “There’s no point in doing that because you can never tell how a game’s going to go so you can only deal with it when it comes. The way I see it we have five more games this season and the first is West Brom and we have to try to take the maximum from that to help our quest for safety.
“You can never tell after West Brom we might need another win or two so we can only deal with Saturday’s game. It is a little bit disappointing that it’s got to this stage, but if you look at the league this year it’s pretty tight. What’s more disappointing for us is our position now given where we were earlier in the season but that’s how it’s gone and we have to deal with it.”
Jones does, however, play an active part in the “dressing room democracy” that has become part of Ricky Sbragia’s management style. Rather than dictating the standards he expects of his players, Sbragia has challenged them to come up with targets that need to be met to keep the club in the Premier League.
A list of 10 standards that need to be met was compiled and pinned to the dressing room before the Hull game to let the team know what is expected of them. The piece of paper has travelled with the squad to the Hawthorns, where it will provide a compelling reminder that standards hit against Hull last weekend cannot drop.
While such ploys don’t always work it was a tactic that appears to have engaged the dressing room. A day at York races is the reward if the goals are met.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing for a while. Considering this situation we have to take a step back and look at the amount of games we had left and what we needed and what we think is necessary to stay in and that’s what we’ve done and so far we have been on track,” Jones said.
“The next few games will tell us if we’re hitting those targets. Doing the targets made me realise it’s hard to say exactly how many points are required, I don’t think necessarily 40 is going to save you. It could happen that you might need 42 or whatever so we have to try and pick up as many points as possible. We looked at the run-ins for the other teams but you never go what’s going to happen, which is why I don’t study them in too much detail.”
Jones also agrees with some of the other changes enforced by Sbragia, including the decision to drop the overnight hotel stay before home games. “The day before a game you don’t want to be stuck in a hotel. It’s a minor issue but if you have to do it then you have to do it, it depends who is the manager, it’s one of the things that’s been changed and so be it,” he said.
Provided safety is achieved, it will be another busy summer for the club with changes due to take place throughout the club.
Sbragia’s position continues to be the subject of speculation – just as stories continue to surface linking Jones with a move away from Wearside. Spurs retain a interest but Jones treats those reports, which unsurprisingly emanated from North London, with something approaching contempt. Asked by The Journal to clarify his future intentions he put his head in his hands before taking a long, frustrated sigh. “Jesus,” he exhaled. “For the record we have five games to go and are trying to stay in the league. If I had known what will happen tomorrow I probably might have told you but I don’t know.”
To Sunderland supporters worried that sounds non-committal, he also clarified the long-term goals he wants to achieve with the Black Cats. Having penned a long-term contract in January, he believes the club are capable of progression next term.
“You don’t want to be fighting relegation every season but who is to say next season we can’t finish fifth?” he said.