Ben Davies’ consistency at the heart of the Preston defence this season has come in for praise from Alex Neil.
The 22-year-old has been given his first lengthy run in the team by Neil having spent the past few campaigns away from Deepdale on loan.
Since Davies made his PNE debut five years ago, he has had loan spells with York City, Tranmere, Southport, Newport and Fleetwood.
Under Neil, he has nailed down the left-sided centre-half role.
A hamstring injury will keep him out of today’s visit to Sheffield United in the FA Cup but his absence is unlikely to be too long.
North End boss Neil told the Post: “I wouldn’t say that Ben was a bonus.
“Once I had looked at Ben, assessed the whole squad and seen him for a couple of weeks I thought to myself that we have a really good player on our hands.
“He hasn’t really surprised me but what I will say is that his consistency levels for a guy who had never played at this level, have been very good.
“Normally if you bring in someone who hasn’t played at that level, they maybe play well six games out of 10.
“Ben is probably playing well nine times out of 10 and the one game when he doesn’t, it is just a case of not being up to his usual standard rather than being poor.”
Davies being left-footed has given the back four some better balance.
And Neil believes he can use that attribute more to his advantage.
“Ben has got a good left foot and he should really have more confidence in it than he actually has,” said Neil.
“He is better with it than he gives himself credit for.
“The lad has really good pace, which for a centre-back is rare. He reads the game well and has the determination to get better.”
Neil says Davies had clearly benefited from his five loans, a ‘pathway’ he is a big fan of.
“I think the loan pathway is excellent,” said Neil.
“If you are not getting game-time where you are, you need to go out to get game time.
“I’m a real advocate of the loan system, it helps young players go out and get men’s football.
“The longer you spend in 18s or 23s football, the worse it can be.”
Davies’ last loan spell came at Fleetwood and North End did more business with the League One club this week when they let Kevin O’Connor join them for the rest of the season.
O’Connor is the second player to leave Deepdale on loan this window, with Ben Pringle going to Oldham.
There could be further movement as the transfer deadline nears, with Andy Boyle interesting Walsall.