PNE young ones ready to step up

Josh Brownhill (above) can make a big impact says John Welsh
Josh Brownhill (above) can make a big impact says John Welsh
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Preston North End skipper John Welsh admits he is beginning to feel his age – both on and off the pitch.

The 30-year-old midfielder is very much one of the elder statesman in a very youthful-looking North End squad.

The midfielder knows that he, Keith Keane, Neil Kilkenny and Jack King – who are all verging on veteran status in football terms– will likely be vying for places in midfield with young guns Josh Brownhill, Alan Browne and Will Hayhurst.

Brownhill, in particular, has returned from the summer break looking fitter and stronger than ever.

That has reflected in his performances in pre-season where he has stolen the limelight with a number of well-taken goals.

He scored against Liverpool at Deepdale and then bagged the winner against another Premier League opponent in the shape of Burnley.

His spectacular last-minute 35-yard free-kick earned North End a welcome 2-1 win over the Clarets.

Brownhill was handed his PNE debut last season as a shy, raw 17-year-old – he went on to appear a further 30 times in the first team during the campaign.

The youngster has used the off-season to boost his fitness levels and bulk-up his frame.

And Welsh has also noticed a definite change in Brownhill’s personality off the pitch as well as on it.

“What we have noticed is that Josh has come out of his shell this pre-season,” the skipper said. “Although his dancing in the gym and taste of music is terrible!

“Mind you, that might just be a sign of me getting old!

“But Josh is on the right path to being a really good player. When you see the way he works in training, you can tell he really wants to push himself and improve.

“On the pitch he wants the ball and is getting more confident – you need that to progress in football.

“While he has done well in pre-season, we haven’t seen the best of him yet by a long way because he will keep on improving.

“The goals he has scored in the friendlies show that he is getting more confident – when an opportunity falls his way he is prepared to have a shot and trusts his ability to hit the target.

“He has some experienced players around him in the midfield – Neil Kilkenny, myself, Keano, Kingy have all played a lot of Football League games.”

The performances of all the young players in pre-season have certainly handed manager Simon Grayson food for thought as he ponders his opening-day line-up against Notts County at Deepdale on Saturday.

As well as deciding whether to use Brownhill, Browne and Hayhurst, Grayson must also consider whether to use 18-year-old Ben Davies at left-back.

Davies and Hayhurst have benefited from spending last season out on loan at League Two outfit York City.

“I think the younger players have looked at the situation and realised that as a manager I am there to give them an opportunity,” Grayson said.

“Will and Ben who went out on loan last season will have benefited from that and the other two lads – Josh and Alan – have come back stronger both physically and mentally.”