Few would have expected to see Jordan Thorniley starting three of the last four games for Sheffield Wednesday – and that includes the player himself.
The 21-year-old had last month readied himself to return on loan to Accrington Stanley, where he spent the first half of the season for his first taste of senior football.
But rather than head back to the Wham Stadium, Thorniley instead found himself thrust into Championship football with a club he admits he was losing hope of ever featuring for.
“It was difficult to see me breaking into the team to be honest,” the Warrington-born defender told The Star.
“When I went out on loan and experienced first team football, I wasn’t really getting a chance here.
“I was thinking ‘will I have to move on again? What is the next step?’
“As a young lad, if you peter out in the U23s, you will struggle to have a career.
“I just wanted to make my career.
“I did well at Accrington, came back here and the manager has given me a chance. And I’ve done well so far.
“Hopefully I can stay around the first team, see what happens for the rest of the season and the next season as well.”
Thorniley switched to Wednesday 18 months ago after struggling for opportunities at U23 level for boyhood club Everton.
It was a considerable move he made with his long term future in mind and was rewarded as he was instantly a key figure in the Owls side which won the Professional Development League last season.
But he could not push into the senior set-up, making only one appearance on the bench for the EFL Cup clash with Cambridge United.
At the start of the this season came the opportunity to drop into League Two with Accrington, where he started 19 matches.
With few young players progressing into the Wednesday senior squad, Thorniley rated his chances of making similar appearances at his parent club as slim.
And he admits he was considering the prospect of leaving Hillsborough all together to boost his chances of making it in league football.
But a change of manager at Wednesday changed all that.
He said: “I imagined I would be going back to Accrington on loan.
“It was sort of December when I was discussing it with Accrington and Wednesday.
“Then the manager [Carlos Carvalhal] got sacked just before Christmas.
“Then I thought with a new manager coming in, I’d see what happens.
“I came back and I was with the first team for a couple of sessions and he must have taken a liking to me.
“Then he just kept me around.”
Faced with a shortage of bodies due to an unprecedented injury crisis, new boss Jos Luhukay looked to the club’s development squad to bolster his numbers.
And he dropped Thorniley straight in the deep end with a start against Cardiff City and played a big part in the Owls keeping a clean sheet against the promotion-chasers.
He has started two of the three games since and came off the bench in the other.
And Wednesday have yet to concede a goal while he has been playing.
He said: “It’s been brilliant. I’ve learned loads and I’m really enjoying it.
“The gaffer has been great with me and I’m really thankful for the chance.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself. It’s only three games and I’ve just got to continue doing what I’m doing.
“But it’s been a good time – a dream pathway.
“Going from one big club to another big club, it’s been a great opportunity for me.
“Wednesday gave me the chance last year to play at U23s because I wasn’t doing that at Everton.
“And then to come back from Accrington, straight into the team against Cardiff, it’s all happened very quickly.
“But I’m very happy about it.”