Billy Jones has said “putting on the shinnies” again never felt better.
And after successfully emerging from 90 minutes in the Checkatrade Trophy, the energetic right-back would love to do it again in the Premier League.
You want that competition for places in the squad, it pushes everyone onBILLY JONES
The 29-year-old put weeks of frustration behind him on Tuesday night when he skippered Sunderland Under-23s to a 1-0 victory over Hartlepool United.
Life had been looking rosy for Jones when he was out in France in the summer at the Black Cats’ training base.
However, with the Premier League season imminent, he was not only sidelined by a hip injury, he had to watch boss David Moyes bring in Spanish defender Javier Manquillo on a season-long loan.
A fresh night at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium might not be some Premier League professional’s idea of heaven but, for Jones, the width of his smile said it all.
“There’s nothing better than getting changed and putting your shinnies on and being a part of things again,” he said.
“I got injured at a bad time – the last game of our tour in Evian, so unfortunately missed the start of the season.
“As a player, it’s worst-case scenario, especially as, at the time, I think I was the only right-back at the club.
“The club then went out and signed players and brought quality in to strengthen our squad which is good.
“I’m working hard and hopefully I might get another chance in the first team.”
Jones did his chances no time at all – he bombed forward from the off at Hartlepool in midweek and had a chance to score, his shot stinging the gloves of keeper Adam Bartlett.
Moyes was in the ground to watch the former West Brom defender – who is halfway through a four-year contract – make his confident comeback steps.
And while he respects Sunderland’s decision to sign new players, as well as the concept of competition, he’d love to be back in the first-team picture.
“That’s the aim, like every right-back at the club,” he said. “Personally, as a player, you want that competition for places in the squad, it pushes everyone on.
“Having strength in depth is massive in the Premier League, the club have tried to do that with their recruiting in the transfer window.
“If you are not in that starting XI, you have to try to push the lads who are and give the gaffer that selection headache that might force you back into the side.
“And, if you get that chance, then you look to try to keep the shirt.”
Jones hopes his injury woes are behind him – he certainly looked sharp enough.
“It was my hip in Evian, which took a little bit longer than I expected (to heal),” said the Shrewsbury-born defender, whose only first-team involvement this season was as an unused sub at QPR in the EFL Cup.
“Unfortunately, when I got close, there was another reaction, so it was a case of one step forward and two steps back.
“Getting 90 minutes on Tuesday night was great – I played 60 as well a couple of weeks ago (also for the Under-23s).”
Jones was “happy” with his evening’s work in the 1-0 win, secured by Donald Love’s 64th-minute goal, a result which put Sunderland U23s second in the Group F table with a home game against Notts County to finish off with next month at the Stadium of Light.
“We maybe had more of the ball than we’d get in a Premier League game,” he said.
“It was a chance to attack more from full-back, which is what I try to do when I’m playing for the first team as well. At times, we controlled the ball well and got a lot of play and possession in the final third.
“I should have scored, but it was nice to get in there.
“It was a bit of a throwback to my days in midfield, to be honest, breaking into the box.
“It was a nice game for me because there was plenty of attacking, more than maybe I’d get in the first team.
“It was good.”