Alan Browne is hoping a fine season in the middle of the park for Preston North End can get even better.
The Irishman has been in and out of Simon Grayson’s side at times but hit 100 appearances for the club against Burton Albion back in January and has started the last five games.
The 21-year-old has established himself as an all-action Championship midfielder with PNE competing at the sharp end of the table for large parts of their second campaign back in the second tier.
With PNE unbeaten in their last five and able to leapfrog play-off rivals Fulham with a win at Craven Cottage on Saturday, it’s shaping up to be an interesting finale for the Lilywhites.
“It’s been a really enjoyable season for me personally and considering how well the team are doing it’s just that much better,” said Browne.
“It was good to hit the 100 mark and it’s something I’m really proud of and hopefully it can continue.
“To be in contention for the play-offs at this stage I don’t think we could have asked for any more this season. But I don’t really look at being in and around them, I want to go and get in that play-off spot, as the rest of the lads do.
“We know we’re good enough and we’ve proved throughout the season we can compete with those teams. There’s no reason why we can’t jump above them and do even better than we already are.”
Six points behind Sheffield Wednesday in the final play-off spot, Preston’s players are well aware of what prize could be on offer come May 7.
Facing Fulham, currently seventh, presents a real opportunity to make up some ground and harm the play-off hopes of a direct rival.
Boss Slavisa Jokanovic recently signed a new contract until 2019, however, having turned a side that finished 20th last term into promotion contenders.
“It’s a big game and probably one of the biggest of the season,” said Browne. “It’ll be tough going there. They’re a good team and play some really nice football.
“I think we’ll have to be organised and play to our strengths and if we do that we can get something out of the game.
“We’ve done really well against the teams at the top end of the table all season and there’s no reason why we can’t go there and get the three points.
“Sometimes the bigger teams might overlook us but over the last two years we’ve established ourselves in the league and we’re improving each week.
“If we keep getting the results we will be a team to fear. At this stage of the season teams around us are aware of what we can do and the threat we can pose.”
The trip to Craven Cottage is the first in a seven day spell that looks set to define PNE’s season.
North End then head to Derby on Tuesday night before Reading are the visitors to Deepdale on Saturday, March 11.
But looking too far ahead is a dangerous game, says Browne.
“We all know we’re six points off the play-offs,” said the former Republic of Ireland Under-21s international, now eligible for Martin O’Neill’s senior side.
“It’s good to have that incentive but personally I don’t look too much into it.
“I know what position we’re in and who’s ahead of us but I don’t go working out, ‘if we win this we go there’ or anything like that.
“We just concentrate on every game as it comes and try and get the best possible result.
“Since I’ve been here it’s always been about the next game, not matter how good or bad we’ve done previously. We never really lose focus of what’s in front of us.
“In two weeks it will be a lot more clear where we might end up.
“But we’ll keep ticking along and try and get as many points as we can.”
For some, three games in a week that could make or break a season might be a daunting prospect.
Not at Deepdale however, with North End finding some momentum at a key time in the season.
One defeat in 11 means the games cannot come quickly enough for Grayson’s men.
“It’s been good over the last few weeks,” said Browne.
“When you’re in this kind of form and you’re enjoying it you just want them to keep coming.
“We’ve had a week’s rest now and we’re ready to go again.
“The team’s done really well, we’ve had a few good performances and got a lot of good results and we’re looking to build on that again.
“From a personal point of view it was good to come into the team and help pick up some points.
“It’s good to get a run of games and hopefully that will continue.”
That run of games has coincided with Preston’s five-match unbeaten stretch, Browne having returned to the side in the 0-0 draw at Barnsley at the start of February.
There have then been three straight home wins against Brentford, Birmingham and Queens Park Rangers and a second goalless stalemate of the month in the Lancashire derby down the road at Wigan.
Daniel Johnson has missed out, while Paul Gallagher has been struggling with a thigh injury and North End’s No.8 knows his run in the side can come to an end at any point.
“You’ve got to look at yourself and do as well as you possibly can, especially with the big squad we have,” said Browne, who has made 28 appearances in total this season.
“You saw at the weekend that Paul Gallagher was on the bench and Ben Pearson was in the stands injured.
“It is tough competition, not just in midfield but throughout the whole team.
“It’s tough to keep your place but once you’re in there that’s what you’ve got to do.
“The more competition there is, the more you test yourself.
“Week in, week out you’re always looking to improve and you have to with the players around you.”