BILLY JONES is currently the only recognised full-back on the books of Sunderland’s first-team squad.
But on the eve of Sunderland’s opening pre-season friendly against Darlington 1883 today, the Echo’s Chris Young ponders whether the Bosman signing could prove to be an invaluable figure for the Black Cats this year - and not just because of his position.
BY TEA-TIME today, conclusions will already have been drawn on the three new signings amidst Sunderland’s ranks.
It’s inevitable. In an era of snap judgements and snap reactions, players have to hit the ground running if they are to court popular opinion.
In fact, incoming arrivals are usually pigeon-holed before they’ve even kicked a new ball these days.
Everyone seems to be an expert on La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.
No-one wants to sign those tainted by the slur of Premier League relegation.
But almost every year, a dark horse emerges from the gaggle of summer signings.
That player whose arrival was merely met with a few nods and accompanied by the word “solid” compared to the big money import from the Continent who immediately activated the saliva glands.
Fast-forward a few months though, and that player evolves into an integral part of the side.
It happened three years ago when the unknown James McClean became the catalyst for Martin O’Neill’s revival of the Black Cats.
On-loan Danny Rose was similarly influential two years ago, while Vito Mannone - initially earmarked as a back-up keeper - made that contribution last season.
Could Billy Jones be the player among this year’s summer signings to follow in their footsteps?
Jones regularly impressed for West Brom when facing Sunderland, with the Black Cats notably struggling to contain the attack-minded right-back in Paolo Di Canio’s final game in charge last September.
At 27, the replacement for Phil Bardsley is just approaching his peak and after coming through the famed Crewe youth set-up, he has no reservations about his suitability to find a niche in Gus Poyet’s possession-based philosophy.
“That was the Crewe way, coming through the ranks and to the first team,” said Jones.
“We tried our best to play good football and that’s the way the gaffer here wants to play – bring the ball out from the back, even through the goalkeeper to start with.
“He has told me how he wants me to play and I hope to take that into the pre-season games now.”
Jones could easily have remained at the Hawthorns.
Prior to his former Preston manager Alan Irvine being appointed as new West Brom manager in mid-June, the Baggies had made Jones two contract offers on improved terms.
But Jones opted instead to pen a four-year deal at the Stadium of Light to become Poyet’s first signing of the summer.
It was perhaps understandable that he wanted a fresh start.
Like Sunderland, West Brom endured the trauma of a roller coaster escape from the jaws of relegation, with the manager proving to be a casualty along the way.
Unlike the Black Cats though, the Baggies ended the campaign on a whimper, with boss Pepe Mel quickly given his marching orders after just four months at the helm.
But what were the factors which attracted Jones to Sunderland in particular?
Jones explained: “To start with, it was the consistency they showed towards the back end of last year.
“They put in some great team performances and you could see that team spirit and togetherness as a settled group with a new manager.
“Then, speaking to the gaffer, the way he talked about how he wants Sunderland to play as a club and how he wants me to play within that, was a massive factor in me signing here.
“It’s up to us to implement that now and try to have a successful season.
“I’ve really enjoyed every moment of it so far and I’m looking forward to playing some games.”
There is one thing which would fast-track Jones into the hearts of Sunderland’s supporters though.
His solitary goal in a West Brom shirt came in an April 2013 draw against Newcastle United.
What he would give for another against the Magpies.
“My only goal for West Brom came against Newcastle, as I have been reminded already since I’ve been here!” he added.
“As a full-back, you want to try and score as many goals and assists as you can.
“Maybe I can get another against Newcastle...”