Exclusive Ben Davies PNE column
It was great to sign a new contract with Preston North End last week and have that extra security as I look to develop as a player.
The past couple of times that I’ve been in the closing stages of my contract, it has been nearer to the end of the season that things got sorted out and agreed.
So to have everything agreed in November was a big boost to me.
I know that I will be here for the next couple of years and can focus on my game without worrying about a contract.
It was last month when things started to move with regards to a new deal.
My agent had come to watch Preston’s game against Huddersfield and he rang me the next afternoon to say the club had approached him about sorting a deal out.
I was delighted to hear that and it didn’t take very long for everything to be sorted out.
I love this club, I’ve been here a long time from when I was a kid.
In terms of appearances in the first team, I’ve not had too many here.
But every player is different when it comes to how quickly they develop. Some lads come through a lot quicker than others, it just depends on different things.
People forget that I made my debut when I was only 17, so my chance came early.
They probably assume I’m older than I am and that maybe I should have played more games by now.
I’ve still got developing to do and the contract shows that the manager and club have got faith in me to do that.
The two games I’ve played in the first team this season both came in the League Cup against Bournemouth and Newcastle.
The gaffer showed a lot of faith to put me in for those matches.
Bournemouth was brilliant – to beat a side from the Premier League was special.
Everything about the night was good – the preparation, flying down there and then the way the game went.
To take the lead, then fall behind and come back to win in extra time, showed a lot of character.
I played the full game, all 120 minutes, and it was a great learning curve for me.
Newcastle in the following round was a night to forget in terms of the result.
But there were still things to take from the trip to St James’ Park.
There was all the build-up and then to step out on to the pitch in front of 49,000 people was quite an experience.
It is not every day that you get to play in front of a big crowd like that.
Part of my development as a player has included loan spells at other clubs.
I spent the whole of the 2013/14 season with York City, playing a lot of games in League Two.
After that, I went to Tranmere Rovers, Southport and then last season, I spent four or five months in Wales with Newport County.
I really enjoyed it at Newport. They were in a battle to stay in the Football League and we achieved that.
The pitch at Rodney Parade wasn’t the best and quite a few games got called off.
But everything else about the club was great – the fans, the players and staff.
There was a change of manager while I was there and between us all, we got ourselves out of trouble.
One of our games during the loan spell was televised live on Welsh TV – an FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers.
There came a time during the loan spell at Newport when Preston wanted to call me back.
A couple of the lads had got injuries and they needed me to go on the bench for the away game at Bolton Wanderers in March.
I came back and travelled with the team to Bolton but North End could not get the clearance for me to play.
With Newport being a Welsh club, my loan was classed as an international transfer and could not be cut short.
So I went back to Newport and finished the season with them, getting some more games under my belt.
I see loan spells as being very important for young players.
Playing different systems for different clubs in different leagues can only help your development.
If you look at the careers of a lot of the top players, quite a lot of them went out on loan when they were young.
While I made my Preston debut in 2013 as a left-back, I see myself now as a central defender.
I came through the youth team as a centre-half but when it came to the first team, they saw it as a safer option to play a young player at left-back. I’m comfortable playing as a left-back but as my career goes on, I see myself as one of the two centre-backs or on the left side of a three-man defence.
Another part of developing as a player is training with the more experienced lads.
Tom Clarke, Alex Baptiste, Paul Huntington and Bailey Wright are four defenders with plenty of experience and games under their belts.
You can learn so much from them in training, by working alongside them and seeing what they do.
Bailey came through the youth system like I have done.
He’s three years older than me but to see someone come down the same path is great.
Over the last few years, Bailey has played lots of games in Preston’s first team and that is encouraging for any young player – it shows what can be done.