PNE midfielder’s right on time

Alan Browne holds off a challenge from Fulham's Richard Stearman

Alan Browne holds off a challenge from Fulham's Richard Stearman

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Alan Browne is determined to be the first man in the room for Saturday’s pre-match team meeting at Deepdale.

North End boss Simon Grayson always gathers his players for some late instructions an hour-and-a-half before kick-off.

This weekend will certainly be no different as PNE prepare to host promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday.

Browne, though, famously missed the 1.30pm deadline for North End’s previous home match against Huddersfield Town.

A punctured tyre on his black Range Rover left him stranded on the M61 motorway just a few hours before kick-off.

He had to be rescued by kitman Russ Rigby, who rushed to the Irishman’s aid.

Rigby lent Browne the keys to his club van so he could continue his journey to Deepdale and stayed with the midfielder’s car until it was fixed.

Fortunately for Browne, despite his team meeting tardiness, Grayson kept faith with him in the starting XI.

And as it so often pans out in those kind of situations, Browne went from zero to hero as he headed home in the last minute to win the match 2-1 for his team.

PNE fans will be glad to hear that the youngster has since purchased a spare tyre so that a repeat episode does not occur.

Mind you, the home supporters probably would not mind Browne being late again for the visit of the Owls if it meant him scoring a late winner again.

“It was a great feeling to score the winner against Huddersfield,” said Browne, whose only other goal this season came against this weekend’s opponents in the 3-1 defeat at Hillsborough in October.

“I have not done it as often as I would have liked. I suppose it doesn’t matter who gets it as long as somebody does, but it was a fantastic feeling to score and gave me a great boost on the day.”

Browne revealed that he did not escape a fine for his lateness against the Terriers – but a certain degree of clemency was shown by his manager.

“The manager did fine me, but he was a bit more lenient than I reckon other managers would have been,” Browne said.

“Considering the circumstances, I think he had to be. I could not do much about the puncture so he took that into consideration.

“He did have to fine me, but he showed a little bit of leniency.”

Browne has been a prominent member of the North End squad this season, having made 29 appearances in all competitions.

It was not until the 2-1 defeat away at Brentford that he made his first start in the Championship, but has since gone from strength to strength.

On the face of it, the number of appearances he has made this season is a little bit of a surprise, especially as last season he was very much a peripheral figure as North End won promotion from League One.

Over the second half of last season, he made just one appearances in the league as a substitute in the 85th minute in a 2-2 draw at Leyton Orient.

He then came in from the cold to feature in the play-off semi-final second leg against Chesterfield at Deepdale.

And then got more game-time in the final against Swindon at Wembley when he came on as a first-half substitute for the injured Paul Gallagher.

However, his progress this campaign has come as no great surprise to many closely connected with the club and Browne admits he has found the Championship to his liking.

“I have really enjoyed myself this season,” he said.

“The gaffer has given me a lot of game-time which considering what happened last year, I did not think I would play as much as I have done.

“I have been working hard and the gaffer has seen that.

“The Championship is different to League One in many ways.

“I think League One is more high intensity. As soon as you get the ball somebody is on to you.

“I found this season you get a bit more time and space, but once you get defending in that final third you have got to be a lot more on your toes – I think that is the major difference.”

Last weekend’s victory over Wolves lifted North End up to 11th in the table – 14 points clear of the danger zone and nine points shy of the play-off positions.

Browne believes he and his team-mates can enter into the final 15 games with a new sense freedom, knowing that they are unlikely to get drawn into a relegation scrap.

“We can’t get too carried away with ourselves,” he said. “We can’t just think we can turn up and win the points now.

“But I do think there has been a massive burden lifted off our shoulders.

“There is now a big gap between ourselves and the bottom three and I think it’s fair to say we are nearly safe, although we are not mathematically safe yet.

“Looking at the table, I think we should only be looking up.”

This weekend sees two of the form sides of the division go head to head. The Owls have won seven of their last 10 games, while North End have picked up five wins and two draws in their previous eight.

“Wednesday have a variety of good players,” said Browne.

“But I think we can go into the game feeling positive about the way we have been playing.”