Preston North End’s midweek visit to Southport provided the opportunity to reflect on how fast the wheel turns in football.
It had been three years since the Lilywhites last visited that stretch of the Merseyside coast but how things had changed.
Southport’s ground was still the same – a decent one by the way – but those treading the turf in PNE colours underlined the evolution at North End.
Before Tuesday night, their last visit had been the opening friendly ahead of the 2012/13 campaign.
The Graham Westley era was in full flow then, his summer revolution having taken effect.
That sunny July afternoon three summers ago, 18 players pulled on a Preston shirt for the first time.
For some of that group, there were not many more appearances.
Who remembers Tiago Rose, Peter Enckelman, David Gonzalez and Cliff Byrne who played on trial?
Lee Trundle, Joel Byrom, Chris Beardsley and Jack King officially played as trialists too before officially signing on.
Only two players who played that day remain – Paul Huntington and John Welsh.
Bailey Wright was also at the club but sat the game out with an injury.
The remainder have moved on, some very soon after, others more recently.
That shows the turnover of players – and quality – which has been required in North End’s climb from League One to the Championship.
While it was a Preston side littered with trialists in 2012, it was Southport’s turn this week.
The Port squad list included 10 of the ‘Trialist’ family, all appearing on the team sheet as just that – no proper name, just ‘Trialist’ and a number.
Most of them kept each other company on the bench in the first half before a mass entrance at the hour mark as substitutes.
In the age of social media, it is a bit strange that many clubs continue the policy of trying to keep the identity of trialists under wraps.
One click of your phone can snap a picture and have it spinning around Twitter in a matter of seconds.
In the good old days before the internet, working out the identity of a mystery player was a summer sport for journalists and supporters.
It was almost a battle of wills between manager and hack – one trying to put a shroud of secrecy over a player, the other attempting to splash it across the back page.
Some you got right, some wrong, some got signed up and some disappeared into a world of obscurity.
Moving back to the present day, it was a decent workout for North End at Southport.
Jermaine Beckford, Paul Gallagher and Joe Garner might have got the night off but the visitors still managed a comfortable 4-0 victory.
In the absence of Beckford and Garner – and with Will Keane left on the bench until part-way through the second half – it was left to Jordan Hugill to lead the attack.
There is something about Hugill which a lot of Preston fans like and I’m in full agreement.
He has a rawness still about him, although some of the rough edges are gradually getting smoothed off.
Garner, Beckford and Keane will be above him in the pecking order but that is not to say he won’t get his chance this season.
The loan spell at Hartlepool looks to have done him a world of good – scoring the goal which keeps a side in the Football League would bolster anyone’s confidence.
On the striking front, it will be interesting how Simon Grayson uses his forwards.
Beckford, Garner and new boy Keane all fitted into the starting XI against Hearts.
A sign of things to come? Certainly for home games, I could envisage Grayson using all three.
Keane seems at home in that role behind the strikers – the lad is able to find room and play from there.
A more conservative system might be needed at other times, meaning one or more of the strikers giving way.
On the transfer front, we still await defensive additions – it is certainly a ‘long game’ which PNE are playing in the transfer market.
Some fans are getting edgy and that edginess will only grow the nearer the start of the season gets.
There is that fine balance to be struck between having the targets through the door and not paying over the odds.
This division does have the ability to plunge clubs into financial difficulties – it is one level under the Premier League, where cash is aplenty.
That is a trap which PNE’s hierarchy seem very keen to avoid, hence the patient approach.