On Wednesday night, Kilmarnock’s Northern Ireland winger Jordan Jones displayed once again why the Ayrshire club rate him as a £1 million player. A bid of £350,000 from Rangers was rejected as derisory in January, prompting Ayr United manager (and former Rangers player) Ian McCall to claim that the 23-year-old was not worth half of what had been offered.
Since then, Jones’ value has been underlined by a series of man-of-the match displays and St Johnstone had no answer to his pace and poise as he orchestrated Killie’s 2-0 victory at Rugby Park.
However, his rise to prominence has also attracted some unwanted attention. Last weekend Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes accused him of diving to win the penalty which earned his side a 1-1 draw in their Scottish Cup quarter-final at Pittodrie, to the disgust of his Kilmarnock counterpart Steve Clarke.
St Johnstone’s Tommy Wright repeated the accusation on Wednesday as Jones won the penalty which led to the hosts’ opening goal. He also had two players cautioned and one dismissed for fouls on the player, who was in no mood to take the allegation lying down.
“My mouth was pouring with blood – I don’t know what was going on,” he said.
“He was a little bit annoyed but I’m not here to talk about Tommy Wright. If people make accusations then it motivates me even more. Derek McInnes did it after the Aberdeen game last week and said I dived when I clearly hadn’t.
“Tommy Wright said I dived on Tuesday. I’m not quite sure if he meant the foul when I got my lip burst or whether it was the penalty, but neither of them was a dive.
“He can say what he wants but all I want to do is impress Steve Clarke and I feel like I did that on Tuesday night.
“I don’t want a reputation as someone who does that but I can use it as motivation to shut them up and prove them wrong.
“The gaffer told me after Derek McInnes accused me to take it as a compliment. It happened again on Wednesday and it was hard not to hear it because I was only five yards away.
“You just put it to the back of your mind but it spurs you on to do more against them.”
Kilmarnock have climbed steadily to fifth place in the table and on Tuesday they will re-engage with Aberdeen for the right to play Motherwell in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.
Understandably, Jones has nothing but praise for the job Clarke has done since he succeeded Lee McCulloch in October.
“He’s been brilliant,” he said. “Anyone on the outside looking in can see how well he has done and, when you’re working for him, you feel like running through brick walls for him. I can’t praise him enough. The lads have completely bought into what he wants to do and maybe made his job a little bit easier by showing a good attitude.”
Clarke’s influence was clear when Jones was asked whether fourth-placed Hibernian, currently eight points ahead of them, could also be overhauled.
“I don’t know what the gaffer would want me to say,” he replied. “I think we need to take each game one at a time.
“Tuesday was the first time he spoke about two games in a row because he felt that getting results against Saints and Ross County would be massive for us.
“We just want to get as many points as we can. We don’t need to change anything. We just need to keep doing the same things and who knows what will happen?”