PNE skipper relishes fight for places

Strong: John Welsh says competition is fierce in Preston's midfield

Strong: John Welsh says competition is fierce in Preston's midfield

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Skipper John Welsh is revelling in the battle for places in Preston North End’s midfield.

Tough-tackling Welsh has plenty of competition for a role in the engine room, which was shown recently when he found himself sat on the bench for two games.

Neil Kilkenny, Keith Keane and Josh Brownhill are jockeying for starting roles, and teenager Alan Browne has emerged as another option recently.

Welsh says that level of competition can drive North End on as they battle for a promotion place – either by going up automatically or through the play-offs.

“The manager has got plenty of different options in midfield,” Welsh told the Evening Post.

“And the more competition there is, the better it will be for the club. We’ve seen Josh come in this season and show what a great prospect he is.

“He has got an eye for goal and is very attack minded.

“Alan Browne is quite similar to him, likes to go box-to-box and can tackle as you will have seen in the last two games when he has come on as a sub.

“The young lads keep us older ones on our toes.Although Keith Keane’s gone to right-back for the last couple of weeks, he has played a lot of games in midfield.

“Keith and myself are the tacklers, then you’ve got Neil Kilkenny, who is a great passer of the ball.

“We have also got Joel Byrom who is out on loan at the moment, so the strength in depth is there.

“What is really encouraging is the young lads coming through.

“Alan Browne is only 18 but hasn’t been fazed by coming into the team. Sometimes you have to talk young kids through a game but I’ve not had to say too much to him because he’s done everything right.

“Off the pitch, I’ve had to back Alan up a bit because he’s got a Liverpool badge tattooed on his leg, which the lads have given him some stick about.

“He will just have to get a Preston badge done on the other leg!”

PNE’s next assignment is away to Bristol City on Saturday.

A point at Ashton Gate would confirm their place in the play-offs mathematically but it is a victory which North End have their sights on.

Said Welsh: “It is that time of the season where you have to keep a calm head and get your focus right.

“Most teams have something to play for, whether that be at the top end of the table or making sure they’ve got enough points to stay out of trouble. Bristol City have been on a good run and they looked a decent side when they played at our place in November.”

If North End are to grab an automatic promotion slot, it will need slip-ups from the clubs above.

So while the main focus has to be on their own jobs, Welsh admits an eye is kept on how others have done.

“We do look at other results – it would be hard not to,” said the 30-year-old.

“Leading up to a game, we just focus on ourselves and forget what is happening with other teams.

“When you come in after a game, the first question is, ‘How the others have done?’ – a good feeling is when you’ve done your job, got a win and then see teams around you drop points.”

It has been a bearded Welsh who has taken to the pitch in recent weeks, and that look will remain.

He said: “I started growing it to raise awareness for the ‘Grow it for Joe’ campaign which is supporting Joe Thompson at Tranmere.

“I’ve kept with it and I’ll keep it until the end of our season, whether that’s May 3 or May 25.”