After last season saw 18-year-old Luke Dreher progress to being named in the first-team squad for the trip to Old Trafford and picking up the development player of the season award, this term has seen the youngster suffer the negative side of a career when two separate injuries put him on the sidelines.
This week though saw him back with a smile on his face as he played the full 90 minutes against Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park, and he reflected on how his hard work and patience proved worthwhile as he led the team out as captain.
“It’s really good to be back and nice to be part of the starting line-up, and what was also pleasing was that I was able to play the full 90 minutes," he said. "I have been building up my fitness in recent weeks in training and then in the last few days it has been back to normal and was great to be back out playing out on the Selhurst Park pitch once again.
“I have had two separate injuries, back in October I tore my calf and missed about a month and then while I was on my way back I suffered another injury, this time to my hip which meant a longer time out. It was frustrating as you can see the other lads going out to train while you are sitting in the treatment room; I found that tough but you just need to focus on getting back to fitness and what you can achieve when you get back in the side.”
The frustrations of the rehabilitation period for any player is soon overcome once the gametime starts returning and the midfielder, speaking after this latest outing for the under 23s, felt his improved fitness levels showed reward for the hard work he had been putting in under the watchful eye of the medical team.
“It does take a bit of time to get back to the fitness levels needed to come through 90 minutes because you can train as much as you want but you don’t know how you are progressing until you start playing matches," Dreher added. "I did work well during my recovery which is essential because you have to do that to give yourself the best chance and it’s paying off because I am feeling good again now.“
Even though the starting XI included Scott Dann and four other members of the first-team squad, the captain’s armband was given to Luke and he knows that he can only learn from playing alongside experienced professionals, and of course taking some captaincy lessons from the first-team captain.
The under 23s boss, Richard Shaw, has spoken about the way he wants to see this group of players progress rather than it be all being about results but like any youngster the skipper wants the habit of winning to be one that his team mates find a familiar one.
“It was nice to captain the side and of course with Dann’s experience he was a real leader out there and he was helping me along and I was trying to talk to the younger lads, from a personal point of view it is always a nice feeling to be captain of the side.
“As a group it is important we take the work from the training ground into games and develop but also get some results like we have been doing in recent weeks. You need to get into the habit of winning because when you go into the first-team or out on loan it does matter. You always want to win whatever game it is.
"In the development squad we have a good group of players, we have a number of scholars and first year pros which means it is a young side. We do have a close-knit group and we work here with the coaches to keep working on improving our individual games, and if the opportunity does come along to go out on loan some way down the line, then all the better as this should be the next step for all of us.”