Pre-season, especially under a new manager, is when players try to impress.
Trying to ensure their names are first on the team-sheet is a priority.
All I wanted to do was get stuck into the game and get back into it.Reece James
Tackles fly in, tired legs keep pumping and every ball is chased down as it trickles out of play.
But how do you impress when fighting back from 19 months on the sidelines?
Even only considering the length of James’ injury nightmare, which began when he picked up a foot injury against Chesterfield in January 2016, the comeback trail disappeared well over the horizon.
Mix in multiple setbacks, multiple operations, multiple disappointments, and it’s like trying to drive home on a route with a string of road closures.
Even as Reece James neared fitness as this season’s start neared, manager Paul Cook drafted in cover by bringing in Leicester’s Callum Elder on loan.
Elder promptly landed himself a ban by receiving a red card on his debut against MK Dons, but James, after pre-season games against Liverpool, Southport and Chorley, was eager to lace up his boots and return to action.
An EFL Cup appearance in the win over Blackpool was followed by a near-scoring showing in last weekend’s 4-1 thrashing of Bury, and the ex-Manchester United reserve couldn’t be happier to be back.
“When I saw my name on the team sheet I was just so excited,” he said after Sunday’s win – his first league appearance back.
“Straight-away I thought: I’m starting, it’s been such a long time.
“All I wanted to do was get stuck into the game and get back into it.
“Obviously with the team playing so well it’s even better, and an absolute pleasure to be part of it again.”
Coming back into a team which has made a flying start to the season has been a happy ending to a year behind closed doors, with few seeing the work the 23-year-old has put in.
“I’d been holding off all pre-season from the tackling,” he explained.
“I didn’t really want to do it, but when the adrenaline’s pumping, you see the ball, you think you can win it, and you just get stuck in.
“Obviously it was difficult for me in pre-season, because no-one had seen me play for 19 months.
“There were a few times I wasn’t involved in the pre-season fixtures (against Notts County and Grimsby), I was working hard behind closed doors, and all you do is get on with it.”
Now back in the side, James admits he will have to face competition for the place he has waited so long to win back - but he insists that’s they way he wants it, especially as the team are performing well.
“There’s a few new faces since then, and we have strengthened in a few areas,” he said. “There’s such good competition for places everywhere, with the loan lads who have been brought in as well as the permanent deals.
“That’s what you want to see.”