Former Wolves keeper Paul Jones recalls famous FA Cup penalty recovery 28 years on
It may not be a particularly noteworthy anniversary of the day Wolves somehow overcame estimated odds of 74/1 to come back and defeat Sheffield Wednesday in a penalty shootout.
Twenty-eight years ago yesterday to be precise.
But even so. Almost three decades on from the night Molineux witnessed the comeback of all 12-yard comebacks, it remains a few minutes of FA Cup action which those Wolves fans who were present will never tire of remembering.
Disappointment. Disbelief. Delight. Delirium. And throughout, drama. The proverbial gamut of emotions were on show as Wolves hit back from going 3-0 down in the shootout to somehow prevail 4-3.
And one of the calmest men in the stadium at the time? Well, on first reflection, that appeared to be Wolves goalkeeper Paul Jones.
He hadn’t featured all that much at Wolves to that point, as the back-up to the most used goalkeeper in the club’s history in Mike Stowell.
But he certainly revelled in the spotlight of this particular shootout, which provided an extraordinary climax after two absorbing Fourth Round ties.
“The stadium had not long been redeveloped by that point and the atmosphere that night was fantastic,” recalls 55-year-old Jones, who ultimately made his Premier League name with Saturday’s opponents, Southampton.
“When it went to penalties, I was just trying to concentrate on what I was doing, and on the lads taking the kicks.
“Obviously there wasn’t the same analysis on where people put penalties as is available now - I knew a little bit about the Wednesday takers but not too much.
“I had a little method myself back then, which was just based around right footed players going to my right, and left-footed players to my left.
“When players are under a bit of pressure it always felt like the natural swing was to go that way.
“Having said that, I could have been stood perfectly in the right place and I’d never have saved Kevin Pressman’s!”
Jones’ goalkeeping rival Pressman certainly made his mark in the shootout, blasting an unstoppable effort into the top corner which, after failures for the usually dependable Andy Thompson and Robbie Dennison, and successes from Mark Bright and former Wolves loanee Guy Whittingham, put Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 ahead. Every single one of the penalties had gone in the Owls’ favour. What a hoot.
But then, from the moment Pressman’s thunderbolt almost took the net off its hinges, the tide suddenly turned. As unlikely as it would seem.
At that point, according to Wolves fan and professional punter Nick Goff, the chances of a Wolves win were, to say the least, extremely slim.
Goff’s calculations, based around the probabilities of the following penalties taken by both, and then sudden death, made Wolves 74/1 to be successful from that point, equating to a 1.33% chance of winning from 3-0 down.
In a two horse race! So, in a nutshell, not a cat in hell’s chance.
The next five had to go Wolves’ way even to take it to sudden death, which they did. Gordon Cowans, David Kelly and John De Wolf converted, with Andy Pearce blasting against the crossbar and Chris Bart-Williams being denied by Jones for the Owls.
For once, Jones changed his normal approach for Bart-Williams, going the other way having also saved his late spot-kick in the closing stages of the original goalless draw at Hillsborough. Not just ‘Jones the Save’, but ‘Jones the King of the Mind Games’ as well.
Then came Chris Waddle, taking his first spot kick since missing for England against Germany in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup. As he walked slowly from the halfway line, he put his hand to his face in anticipation of some verbals from the returning De Wolf. Apparently, the big defender called him a ‘blockhead’.
Jones then used his head to make the block, saving from Waddle before Don Goodman made no mistake to seal a shootout success which was ultimately as gleefully received as it had seemed completely unlikely.
“What a night,” says Jones.
“That tie was probably my big breakthrough at Wolves.
“That first game when I saved the late penalty was shown live on Sky, as was the replay, and they were great games to be involved in.
“I really enjoyed it at Wolves, but was a bit frustrated that I didn’t get the chance to play more.
“Those games put me in the spotlight a little bit, it gave me that buzz you get when you are involved, and it made me focus on what my next step should be.
“They were such fantastic occasions that it made me realise either I needed to get in and be a regular at Wolves, or I had to move on if it didn’t work out that way.
“As it was, Graham (boss Graham Taylor) gave me a nice bumper contract at the time which I was very grateful for, but I ended up staying another year or so but not really playing.
“When I look back, maybe it would have been better not to have signed it and moved on, but those are the decisions you have to make in football sometimes.”
Jones was 27 by this point, shaping up for what are generally regarded as peak years for those of a goalkeeping persuasion.
For him, making the right moves was particularly important given his relatively late introduction to the professional scene.
Born in Chirk near Wrexham, he had launched his senior career with Bridgnorth Town before moving to Kidderminster Harriers where he really made his name, chalking up 242 appearances between the sticks including the 1991 FA Trophy Final, which ended in Wembley defeat against Wycombe Wanderers.
His performances and consistency at Aggborough helped secure the short move up the A449 to Molineux, as cover for the experience of Stowell.
“I loved it at Kiddy but I was always hoping to get to a pro club, maybe even sooner that it happened,” Jones recalls.
“It was better late than never, and I was raring to go by the time I got to Wolves.”
Those FA Cup heroics against Sheffield Wednesday were the highlight of the first spell of 26 appearances but eventually that desire for more regular first team football saw Jones depart, moving on to Stockport County.
It would prove one small step back, to take two giant leaps forward.
The 1996/97 season became the most successful in Stockport’s history with promotion from the Second Division to the equivalent of the Championship and a run to the semi-finals of the League Cup including wins over the Premier League trio of Blackburn, West Ham and Southampton.
Jones, playing for namesake Dave who would later guide Wolves to the Premier League via the play-offs, was in goal for a staggering 66 of the 70 games Stockport played that season.
He wasn’t the only ex-Wolf in the County lair, with Andy Mutch, Tom Bennett and Chris Marsden also part of that all-conquering squad.
And when Dave Jones secured a move to Southampton thanks to the job carried out with Stockport, he took Paul with him.
He made his Premier League debut, at the age of 30, was named the club’s Player of the Year in his first season, and missed only 19 league games in total during his first five years on the South Coast.
Having hit 30 before making his top-flight bow, had Jones ever given up hope of cracking the Premier League?
“Not really,” he replies.
“I always hoped something might come along.
“If think for any player, if you keep working hard and are ready to take an opportunity when it arrives, you’ve always got a chance.
“By the time I went to Southampton I’d just got in the Wales squad as well, and everything kind of snowballed.
“It probably couldn’t have come at a better time in my career given the age that I was.
“I know there are a lot of good young goalkeepers out there these days but I always felt that goalkeepers were on top of their games between the ages of 28 and 35.
“I could also deal with the pressures better as well.
“By that stage of a career you have had a lot of disappointments which are all part of learning, especially as a goalkeeper.
“You have to take all those on board, be stronger for them and learn any lessons.”
There was one moment which provided mixed memories when, 12 years after appearing in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley, Jones was back in his native Wales for the FA Cup Final between Southampton and Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium.
Just nine days before Wolves finally made it to the Premier League at the same venue courtesy of play-off glory against Sheffield United, a solitary Robert Pires goal secured the cup for the Gunners.
Jones, extremely disappointed to have been left out of the team in the first place, ended up coming off the bench after 66 minutes to replace the injured Antti Niemi.
“I’d played in the semi-final win against Watford at Villa Park, as well as the half a dozen league games in the build-up to the final, so when Strachs (boss Gordon Strachan) told me on the Friday morning that I wasn’t going to be playing I was pretty pissed off,” Jones recalls.
“Antti was struggling to be fit, and he probably did well to actually last as long as he did.
“At the time I was obviously massively disappointed, but when I think back now, I can see it as another positive to have appeared in an FA Cup Final.
“I was the first goalkeeper to ever come off the bench in an FA Cup Final, and I don’t think it has happened again since.”
By now Niemi had become more of a first choice with Southampton, but, in a roundabout way, that opened up the opportunity for Jones to chalk up another of his favourite career memories.
With Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland sidelined, Liverpool – the team Jones supported as a boy whilst idolising the likes of Ray Clemence and Kevin Keegan – were in need of a temporary goalkeeper and, at 36, Jones was handed the chance to live his dream.
Spending three weeks on Merseyside, he made two appearances, becoming Liverpool’s oldest post-war debutant keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 win against Aston Villa at Anfield, before being on the end of a 2-1 defeat away at Tottenham.
“That was all a bit of a whirlwind but it was a great whirlwind and I loved it,” he recalls.
Dudek soon returned from injury, and ultimately Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier agreed to release Jones early from his loan, because Wolves – with Dave Jones now at the helm – had come calling.
The Wolves boss wanted some stronger competition for Michael Oakes - more than that infact - as he threw Jones straight in, where he remained, for 15 Premier League games over the second half of the season.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, Oakes had been in decent form prior to Jones’ arrival causing an element of fan frustration, but the keeper played his part in a much-improved second half to the campaign when Wolves gradually got better without being able to claw back enough ground to avoid relegation.
“The team improved and we got some decent wins at Molineux but unfortunately were just having to try and come from too far back,” says Jones.
“In the Premier League you get punished at the best of times, and, despite the better results, it just wasn’t to be.”
Jones the manager would lose his job soon into the following season, and Jones the goalkeeper his place in the team as new boss Glenn Hoddle decided to re-instate Oakes.
But he continued to perform at a decent level with spells at Millwall, Watford and QPR before hanging up the gloves to bring the curtain down on a career of over 400 club professional appearances.
Add to that an exact half century of senior caps for Wales – with a standout memory of a win over a star-studded Italian side at the Millennium Stadium – and Jones can certainly look back and reflect on a career to be very proud of.
He did stay in the game post his playing days by spending several years as goalkeeping coach on a part-time basis with Wales, including working with a certain Wayne Hennessey who was just setting out on a path which has eventually secured over a century of caps both for his country and also for Wolves.
Jones made 70 appearances in total whilst at Molineux, alongside the 223 as a Saint, and since a few wears and tears on the knees prompted him to move on from sustained coaching three or four years ago, has concentrated on his love of golf which has combined nicely with some extremely worthwhile charity work near his home in West Sussex.
Jones and wife Annette are both patrons of Chestnut Tree House, a children’s hospice based in Arundel, and, when their own family commitments with children and grandchildren allow, are busy organising and staging events to raise funds.
“Chestnut Tree House is such an important facility, offering care and support for children with disabilities and other complex issues, but like so many charities they always need support,” says Jones.
“Combining it with golf we organise events where we can get people together and raise maybe eight, ten, 12 thousand pounds at each day which can go straight to the charity to continue their tremendous work for people around the area.
“It’s an amazing place, very calming, and the kids who go there love it, so it is a fantastic charity which we want to support as much as possible.”
It is very commendable and vital work, which keeps Jones busy, but he hasn’t moved away from football completely.
On Saturday, he will be back at St Mary’s Stadium, carrying out corporate interviews ahead of the game between two of his former clubs.
The last time he did it for this fixture, three years ago last month, Wolves hit back from a 2-0 half time deficit to win 3-2.
“Both teams have been struggling a bit this season and, with Southampton bottom as well, this is a massive game, one of those six pointers,” he admits.
“Wolves will definitely be on a high after such a brilliant win against Liverpool and it’s going to be an interesting afternoon for sure.”
Whatever should transpire come 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, any drama which unfolds is unlikely to quite hit the heights of that which was experienced at Molineux on that February night 28 years ago.
But if there’s a penalty, it might be worth asking Jones which way he would go.