Nathan Jones is another manager in League Two who may be unfamiliar to anyone outside his own club despite over 600 appearances in a lengthy career as a player. Hailing from the rugby stronghold of the Rhondda, Jones started his career as a left-back with Cardiff City before being released in 1993 without making an appearance. He drifted into non-league football, spending two seasons with now-defunct Merthyr Tydfil until they were relegated from the Conference in 1995. Joining David Pleat’s Luton for £10,000 that summer, Jones failed to break into the first team at Kenilworth Road and departed in December without making an appearance. Luton went on to finish bottom of the First Division that season (tier 2). Jones then spent eighteen months playing in Spain for now-defunct CD Badajoz (who were managed by Colin Addison) and then for CD Numancia, winning promotion to Segunda División at the end of the 1996-97 season. It was during his time at Numancia that Jones first took an interest in coaching.
At the end of that season he chose to return to England with Southend. He spent his first season at Roots Hall as a first team regular, but the season ended in relegation from the Second Division in bottom place. He started the 1998-99 season in the first team but lost his place in January 1999 with Southend struggling near the foot of the League; in March he signed for Scarborough on loan and was part of their unsuccessful fight to remain in the Football League – remember that goal by Carlisle goalkeeper Jimmy Glass which sent Scarborough down? It was his third relegation as a player already, not including the one at Luton when they went down in 1996. Jones returned to the Southend first team for the 1999-00 season and was voted Player of the Season at the end of another disappointing year.
In the summer of 2000 Jones signed for mid-table Third Division side Brighton and began a five-year rollercoaster ride. Brighton coasted to the Third Division championship in his first season, with Jones making 40 league appearances. He kept his place as Brighton went straight through to the First Division, winning the Second Division title at the first attempt by a clear 6-point margin. Perhaps it was too much too soon, as they were immediately relegated back to the Second Division. Incredibly, they finished fourth the following season and won a third promotion in four seasons with a 1-0 play-off final win over Bristol City. This gave Jones the incredible record of 4 promotions and 4 relegations in 9 seasons. It came as no surprise therefore, that Brighton were involved in a relegation scrap the very next season, although a 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich on the final day gave them the point needed to stay up on this occasion. After five breathless seasons at the Withdean Stadium, Jones signed for Yeovil Town for the start of seven seasons which were to lay the foundations of his coaching career.
His first year at Huish Park saw Yeovil struggle near the foot of League One for most of the season, finishing 6 points clear of relegation. Jones was appointed captain in 2006-07 as Yeovil reached the play-off final after finishing fifth, their highest ever league placing at that time. Unfortunately their day at Wembley ended with a 2-0 defeat to Blackpool, and Yeovil sank back down the table the following season to finish 18th. Relegation was avoided by two points in 2008-09 and by three points in 2009-10, by which time Jones was beginning to wind down his playing career in favour of coaching. After adding a further 34 appearances over the next two seasons, he retired from playing in the summer of 2012 at the age of 39.
His first foray into coaching had come in November 2007 as first team coach for Yeovil Town Ladies. He commenced his coaching badges the following year and was appointed player-assistant manager of Yeovil Town in February 2009 for a short period before the re-appointment of Gary Johnson as manager saw him relegated to a player-coach role. When his playing contract expired in the summer of 2012, he left Yeovil to manager Charlton Athletic’s U21 side for a season before rejoining former club Brighton as assistant head coach under Oscar Garcia in the summer of 2013. Brighton reached the Championship play-off semi-final, losing 6-2 on aggregate to Derby, before Garcia resigned after just one year. Jones was then appointed first team coach under new manager Sami Hyypia, and took over as caretaker manager for a short spell when Hyypia resigned in December 2014. Jones was appointed assistant manager under new manager Chris Hughton, but was soon replaced by Colin Calderwood and reverted to his former position as first team coach. His coaching career received a lift in the summer of 2015 when he was asked to assist England U21 manager Gareth Southgate in preparation for the UEFA European U21 Championships held in the Czech Republic.
In January 2016 he was appointed manager of former club Luton Town on a two-and-a-half-year contract in succession to John Still. Although not in immediate danger near the foot of the table, Jones won just one of his first seven games before a couple of decent winning runs took them to a final position of 11th. The 2016-17 season was consistently good, with Luton a fixture in the play-off zone for the entire season. The side also made good progress in the Checkatrade Trophy, but both were to end in defeat: Luton lost at home to Oxford in the semi-final of the Checkatrade, and went down to a last-gasp winner from Blackpool in the play-off semi-final. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Nathan Jones now has a full year’s experience both as a manager and of League Two. With a new three-and-a-half-year contract in his pocket, and backed by one of the highest average attendances and one of the best playing budgets in the division, big things will be expected next time around.
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and play-offs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
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— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 1, 2017