FOR Wanderers’ Fab Four, a Ticket to Ride in Sweden and Denmark represented a massive step towards first-team football.
There may be a Long and Winding Road ahead – but the highlight of the Scandinavian tour was the rise to prominence of Joe Riley, Josh Vela, Georg Iliev and Oscar Threlkeld among the senior ranks.
Getting a place on the plane was tantamount to a golden ticket for the quartet of home-grown youngsters and Dougie Freedman was forced to leave behind a handful of big names – Keith Andrews and Tom Eaves being the obvious examples.
This was an opportunity to work with the Scot at close quarters, to stake an early claim.
For Riley in particular it was a crucial period of his young career.
Having suffered so many injuries since breaking through in the Premier League days, the young full-back has plenty to prove all over again.
Freedman admits he will have to managed his re-integration carefully but the early signs are very positive indeed.
Vela has come on another level since getting some first team experience at Notts County last season but perhaps finds himself in the most difficult outfield position to claim a senior spot.
Skipper Jay Spearing, and two of the manager’s own signings Medo Kamara and Liam Trotter, had a firm hold on the defensive midfield positions last term.
Vela certainly let no-one down in Scandinavia, however, showing a great maturity, particularly in the second half against Brondby.
Threlkeld enhanced his reputation by showing he can play either side of defence and is also handling the physical aspect of life in the senior ranks like a seasoned pro.
This was the first real chance some fans got of Iliev, the Bulgaria-born striker who impressed at Under-21 and Under-18 level for the last couple of years.
Playing on the left side of attack he was rather frozen out of the first game – but he was desperately unlucky not to have scored in the next two, and seems to have that knack of being in the right place, at the right time.
While overall performances against Brondby, FC Vestsjaelland and Mjallby AIF were somewhat of a mixed bag, the Wanderers boss was pleased with the attitude shown by the youngest members of the trip.
It was a gruelling 10 days on the training field – and the Whites boss revealed that he intends to take a couple of the young players out of the firing line for a few weeks.
A few will stay on and compete for places in the forthcoming friendlies – but Freedman has warned that standards must not drop.
“To give people a little insight into what I’m think now – I’ve had maybe five younger players with us on the trip,” he said, including keeper Ross Fitzsimons in his list.
“A couple will go back to the Under-21s to gain a little bit more confidence over the course of the next three or four weeks but couple will stay on and train with the first team because I feel they have done that well.
“There is a plan in there and it has been great to see them over the 10 days because now they now where my level is at. They know what I expect from them on a day-to-day basis.
“What I won’t do is just talk a good game. If the players are not good enough, they won’t play.
“I want to give them all a chance to show me they are good enough but if they are not, they will go back down to the under-21s to wait for their chance again.
“That isn’t being harsh on anyone, that is just how you develop players.”
One of the youngsters who will almost certainly work with the development squad for the time being is Fitzsimons, the keeper signed on a free from Freedman’s former club Crystal Palace.
He featured briefly in each game on the trip but with Adam Bogdan and Andy Lonergan slugging it out for the number one spot, it seems unlikely he will be needed in the first team for now.
On the training ground it was clear to see why Wanderers have invested in him, however, and regulars at Leyland should be in for a treat.
Summing up the tour, Freedman reckons the most important work was done on the training ground.
Results highlighted a few areas that perhaps need to be worked on – but the Whites boss insists that progress is being made.
“There were quite a few fans who came over and supported us over the course of the trip and I’m really happy they got a glimpse of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I thank them for that.
“You always want to win games. We lost the last one and I’ll take stock of what went wrong but I think it’s most important to look at what went right, to think about the positive aspects of the trip.
“We’re trying to do things a little bit differently, introduce a few things we maybe didn’t do before and it will take a bit of time.
“But that is what games like this are for. You want to win them but most important is that your players are taking in what you are asking them to do.
“That will then prepare them for the big games to come in the Championship.”