The Wanderers full-back will be heading back to the third tier this season after helping Ian Evatt’s side to promotion and bagging himself a new two-year deal at the University of Bolton Stadium.
One of the Whites’ most consistent performers throughout the last campaign, Jones returns to a division in which he has only played 13 times. But older, wiser, he feels he has learned enough during his time away with Wanderers, Carlisle United and Mansfield Town to feel confident he can handle anything which comes his way.
Speaking to The Bolton News, the former Everton defender said he never got an opportunity to show his worth in his last stint at Fleetwood.
“It just didn’t work out,” he said. “It was Uwe Rosler who signed me and things didn’t really go to plan with him, he eventually got sacked.
“Joey Barton came in and it didn’t really happen. You can’t really get too down about that because it’s football, everyone has different opinions and you can’t really go against a manager for doing what he thinks is right.
“I went out to Mansfield on loan, then to Carlisle, and got to Bolton. I’m just made up to be getting another shot in this team because any footballer will say, you just want to be playing as high up the pyramid as you can. To be doing it with a club the size of Bolton is a great feeling.”
Having just flown the nest at Everton, Jones was loaned out by Barton at Fleetwood to gain more league know-how in 2019, helping Mansfield to the fringe of the top three before disappointment on the final day.
In the end, the experience helped steady his nerves in the build-up to Wanderers’ own final-day showdown at Crawley earlier this month.
“At Mansfield we were right on the verge and needed a draw in last game against MK Dons, they needed a win. If we had got the point we’d have gone up automatically but we lost 1-0,” he recalled.
“That was a hard game to take – in fact, the only one I can think which was more difficult was that Exeter at home, here at Bolton.
“You learn little things and how to deal with them better, so once it came to the Monday building up to Crawley you can draw on that experience.
“We had the likes of Sarce, Doyler, Gillo, Baps, who had all been in those sorts of situations already but for me, I knew once we’d walked off the grass in the training session that first day back, everyone was on it.
“I picked up that vibe and thought ‘do you know what, we’re not going to dwell on this, we’ll go and beat Crawley.’ “Those little things make me a better player than I was two-and-a-half years ago when I was last in League One at Fleetwood. I can’t wait to get going again, I’m already bored!”
Jones has learned some new tricks in his time in the fourth tier, not least the art of goalscoring. The 25-year-old had gone five seasons without scoring a league goal in club football but suddenly tapped into a rich seam for Evatt’s men as they rocketed up the league to secure a top three spot.
“I couldn’t really celebrate my first goal because what a shocking day that was, Port Vale at home, but when I scored away it was fantastic, definitely the most important of all three,” he said.
“When I’d scored against Exeter, I won’t lie, I’m thinking ‘Christ Geth, you haven’t scored a league goal before this season and you’re getting one that could send Bolton Wanderers up.’ My heart was in my mouth.
“Obviously, it wasn’t to be, and it didn’t stop us getting the job done at Crawley in the end.
“I can honestly say this is the best group of lads I have been involved with in my career, and that will take you a long way. Obviously, the quality is going to be a lot better next year but if you have got a core group who will do anything for each other – and I’ll run through a brick wall for them – it’s really important.”
Jones also appreciates the wider significance of Bolton’s success this season, in a campaign where fans have watched from behind laptop screens in a town which has been badly affected by the pandemic.
Furthermore, it corrected the course of a club which had drifted significantly off track in recent years.
“Genuinely, I think that the lads are made up for the staff and the fans who have been with the club for ages because it has been a difficult 10 years, or so,” he said. “We celebrate getting the job done but when you sit and think about it, the success is really for them.
“It was very difficult last year coming to such a big club, you want to experience that atmosphere. You only have to open your eyes to see we have a great stadium and there’s a big support but that makes next season all the more exciting for me because there are some big teams who’ll come here and bring loads of fans – Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich.
“Being honest, when we played Exeter at home and the fans weren’t actually in the stadium the noise they were making made it feel a little bit normal, almost that things were coming back bit by bit.
“Honestly, when you read that 5,000-plus season tickets have been bought already. The season only finished a couple of weeks ago, it speaks volumes.
“We spoke at the start of the season when things weren’t going well and the gaffer pulled us into a meeting. He basically told us that the club hadn’t been doing well for a long time, there was a lot of frustration there, but our goal was to try and get them back on board.
“We knew the only way we could do that was by playing good football and getting results.
“You don’t see many teams get relegated into League Two and get straight back up again. It can be a tough league because it’s not all about football, there are big physical challenges and you have to work your backside off to get points.
“So to get back up again is great but to look around and see people care about the club is even better. You can get people who come to big clubs and just enjoy the moment but, for us, is was about trying to get things done for the fans again and getting them loving the club again.”