Ben Davies didn’t mind getting his boots dirty in the lower divisions and now he is getting his rewards for that long-term view at Preston.
Between his PNE debut and the start of the run he’s having in the first-team this season, there was a gap of four-and-a-half years.
Davies was busy in that time even if he wasn’t seen much at Deepdale.
The defender played on loan for York, Tranmere, Southport, Newport and Fleetwood.
He played 105 games in those five loan spells, in League One, League Two and the National League.
The experience Davies gained there is now proving invaluable as he nails down a place in PNE’s defence.
If ever a young player is wondering whether it is worth going out on loan and dropping a division or two in the search of experience, they need just look at what Davies has done.
I doubt too many North End supporters predicted Davies being a first-team regular this season.
Hand on heart, I wonder if the player himself did.
Many fans’ memories of Davies was having a rather uncomfortable afternoon at the hands of Sheffield United winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce in August 2014.
He had started the 2014/15 season at left-back, chosen ahead of Scott Laird and David Buchanan.
Davies had got the nod on the back of a season on loan with York.
Within a few weeks of Campbell-Ryce sending him dizzy, he was off to Tranmere for the next stage of his loan development.
The following season he had a taste of non-league at Southport and then went to Newport County where he experienced a League Two relegation battle.
Fleetwood last season was a fight at the right end of League One, Davies playing his part in them reaching the play-off semi-finals.
The Cod Army wanted him back last summer on a permanent basis, that is not in dispute.
Had there not been the change of manager at North End, they could well have got their wish.
As it happened, Alex Neil had Davies on his radar as Norwich manager, in the sense his scouting staff were keeping their eye on younger players in the lower leagues.
When Neil took over from Simon Grayson at Deepdale, he gave Davies his chance in pre-season and the lad has not looked back since.
Team-mate Declan Rudd described him as a ‘Rolls Royce’ in an interview ahead of the Fulham game.
Davies responded with a majestic display against the Cottagers, the interceptions he made highlighting just how well he reads the game.
I like the way he seems to make himself a yard of space to make a clearance or find a pass.
Just two yellow cards all season show that he rarely has to resort to foul means to stop an opponent.
Like any 22-year-old he still has things to learn but in Neil has a manager who wants to help him develop.
In total Davies has played 145 first-team games, which is not bad at his age.
There will be 22-year-olds knocking around in Premier League clubs’ Under-23s who can count on one hand the number of senior matches they have played.
Should Davies continue his progression at the rate he has done this season, North End will have quite a talent on their hands.
He seems a level-headed lad, very focused, and is not getting carried away with what he is doing. Speaking to Davies after the Fulham game – he had earlier been to collect the sponsors’ man of the match award for the second game running – the defender was quick to praise the help Paul Huntington has given him this season.
The Cumbrian duo have formed an impressive pair this term.
Huntington provides the experience, that know-how gained from nigh-on 400 first-team games.
There will need to be more solid performances from the pair if North End are to carry their play-off push through to the end of the season.
Those ‘fine margins’ at both ends of the pitch which managers love to reference, will really start making a big difference.
With North End down to single figures of games remaining and with a four-point gap to close, wins and plenty of them are what is required over the next few weeks.
Last week’s defeat against Fulham was hard to swallow although maybe it was not a major blow in the bigger picture.
A draw would have been fully deserved, with North End more than matching their slick-moving visitors.
The pre-match comments of Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic were unnecessary, with him claiming Preston bordered ‘on the limit’ of what was legal and illegal.
How ironic that the first six fouls of the game were committed by his side, with no sign of the blood-letting from North End which he had feared in the build-up.
Fulham are a good side to watch, very well coached by Jokanovic – they do not need cheap jibes to help them.
PNE pushed them all the way by fair means, only a late drop in concentration and a slip denying them.