SUNDERLAND were hamstrung by too many ‘will he, won’t he?’ contract scenarios last season.
The deals of Jack Colback, Seb Larsson, Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner all drifted away to their expiry dates, with only one member of that quartet agreeing fresh terms – forcing the Black Cats to embark upon such a hefty summer spending spree.
It was a similar situation with Billy Jones at West Brom last season, before he joined Sunderland on a Bosman deal during the summer.
The full-back rejected a new two-year deal to stay at the Hawthorns in the Autumn and when West Brom came back to the negotiating table at the end of the campaign, Jones had already made up his mind to leave.
Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with his former club, Jones told the Gazette: “With the contract negotiations, it was very much out of my hands when it came to the summer.
“It was left that late that other teams became interested.
“But I felt like I needed a fresh start.
“Every player will say it’s nice to be wanted and at West Brom in the last season, I was hampered by injuries which was very disappointing.
“But they didn’t really show that confidence and belief in me that they wanted to keep me.
“I obviously wanted to move on to play Premier League football and improve.
“I thought there’d be a much better chance of that at Sunderland.”
Jones missed Sunderland’s 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns on the opening day due to a hamstring injury – a problem which has repeatedly hampered the 27-year-old throughout his maiden campaign on Wearside.
But tomorrow’s visit of West Brom promises to be a much tenser affair, with the Baggies lying just two points and one place above Sunderland in the table.
Sunderland, in particular, desperately need the boost stemming from a victory after miserable defeats in their last two games.
That is a stark contrast to West Brom’s form under new boss Tony Pulis after two wins on the spin.
“It was a massive shame to miss that first game of the season against them at the Hawthorns,” said Jones.
“So I’ve been looking forward to this one since then.
“It’s a big game against a team down there with us which makes it even more important that we produce that good performance and get the win.
“You know they’ll be organised under Tony Pulis.
“I watched them on Sky recently against Everton and they had a lot of players behind the ball, working hard and looked to hit on the counter.
“I imagine they’ll be coming to the Stadium of Light looking to produce that same kind of performance and frustrate us as a team.”
Sunderland fluffed the opportunity to take a decisive step away from the drop zone in their last home game against QPR after falling flat in the previous opportunity to do just that, in Boxing Day’s defeat to Hull.
But with Sunderland now out of the FA Cup, there is only one objective in the Black Cats camp for the remainder of the campaign.
“There’s 13 games left and it’s a mini-league down there in the fight to stay up,” added Jones.
“We’re obviously disappointed that we’re not further away from there, but we’re looking forward to the next games and making sure we’re top of that mini-league.
“Players here have experience of playing in these situations where it feels like this is a big game and could be a turning point.
“We’ve failed a couple of times this year in those games when if we had won, we’d maybe have gone on a five or six games winning streak.
“But we know if we win this, it can set us up on a good run.”