Club Focus – Stoke City – Kenwyne Jones has a point to prove to Stoke as well as Sunderland

This Saturday marks Kenwyne Jones’ first return to the Stadium of Light since his August departure to join the massed ranks of former Sunderland players currently plying their trade at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium. At one time, it had seemed inconceivable that the Trinidad and Tobago striker would leave Wearside for anywhere but one of the game’s leading lights. A string of fine performances during his first two seasons at the club attracted interest from Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, and saw him valued in the £15m-£20m bracket. Although hardly a prolific goalscorer, he embodied the mix of power, pace and link play required of the modern forward, with no less an authority than John Terry declaring him the biggest aerial threat in the Premier League.

It is difficult to pinpoint where it began to go wrong for Jones at Sunderland. Did he ever truly recover from a serious knee ligament injury suffered playing for his country against England in the summer of 2008? Was it the arrival of Steve Bruce, and his subsequent supplanting by Darren Bent as the main man on Wearside, that set in motion the wheels of his departure? Whatever the cause, Jones’ performances became less consistent, much to Bruce’s frustration, and after declaring the striker one of the club’s chief assets in January 2010, he was sold to the Potters for a relatively cut-price £8m just eight months later.

Since his club record arrival in the Potteries, Stoke fans have mostly only seen the thrilling side of Kenwyne Jones’ game, as he scored in four consecutive games as the Midlanders’ season belatedly spluttered into life in September. He looked to be exactly what Stoke needed up front – every inch deserving of the “new Drogba” label bestowed upon him earlier in his career. The timing and athleticism of his headed efforts against Aston Villa, West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham suggested the player could not fail to flourish in a team with an attacking threat that relies heavily on set pieces.

The last two Premier League games, however, have provided glimpses of the other side of Kenwyne Jones. Towards the end of his Sunderland stay, Jones acquired something of a reputation for laziness and disinterest on the pitch, with performances that would lapse into anonymity. Similarly, in Stoke’s recent defeats to Manchester United and Everton, the striker won little in the air, chased little on the ground, and generally exuded an air of apathy.

It would be madness, of course, to judge the player on two poor games, especially after his excellent early season form, but combined with his past reputation, and Bruce’s stinging criticism, it does create a degree of concern for Potters fans. Unlike Sunderland, Stoke do not have a 20-goal a season striker to fall back on if the £8m man doesn’t feel like turning up.

There is every chance, however, that between them, Tony Pulis and the player himself will be able to coax out those electrifying qualities that put Kenwyne Jones on the radar of fotball’s elite, and add that sheen of consistency to his undeniable, significant talent. Indeed, Stoke City’s season – and even their Premier League status – may depend on it.

Related posts