For much of Lowe’s stewardship, which started four-and-a-half months ago against the Tykes, Johnson and Browne have been his pair of midfield ‘eights’ with McCann having to fill in if and when required or play out of position in either of the two wing-back roles.
It had been a puzzle to some North End fans how McCann hadn’t featured more and the clamour had grown for the former St Johnstone man to get a run in midfield.
At Oakwell on Saturday the Northern Ireland Ireland got a start next to Browne, with Johnson moved out to left wing-back – a switch Lowe discussed with DJ over breakfast at the training ground on Friday morning.
Johnson scored twice from a position which was relatively new to him, bar a couple of late switches there during games, with McCann in particular shining further in field.
McCann and Johnson linked well, Browne too when he shifted more towards the left of centre in the second half.
Those link-ups, together with good play elsewhere from others, brought PNE a seventh Championship win on the road this season, scoring three goals for the first time on their travels.
It wasn’t totally straight forward, Barnsley taking the lead in their last home game at this level before making the drop – relegation for them had been confirmed eight days earlier.
But once North End woke up, their passes started to find team-mates and they got a grip on proceedings, the hosts began to look exactly like a relegated side.
Johnson scored the equaliser with a precise finish, his second which put PNE in front was swept expertly from the left hand side of the box into the far top corner.
Emil Riis made the game safe scoring the third, finishing from the tightest of angles just minutes after squandering a chance which was simple in comparison.
Had the visitors scored five, I don’t think Barnsley could have had too many complaints, but three goals were enough.
Johnson’s second goal and Riis’ strike hit the net in front of the away end where 2,000 Preston supporters were suited and booted celebrating Gentry Day in person for the first time in three years.
The whole point of Gentry Day seemed lost on the authorities on the other side of the Pennines, this an annual act of remembrance and not an excuse for some sort of final away game rumble.
At just a couple of weeks notice, the game had been given a fan-unfriendly 12.30pm kick-off and the ticket allocation capped at 3,100 – the early start and recent form keeping the numbers down.
There wasn’t exactly a warm welcome for those who made the trip outside or inside the ground, that perhaps summed-up by a line of stewards placed across the pitch at the final whistle in rather unnecessary fashion.
What they expected to happen, I’m not sure. The North End fans were in the top half of their stand and there was not a remote chance of Barnsley supporters coming on to the pitch during a half-hearted lap of thanks from their team.
Once Lowe had doffed his bowler hat to the away faithful – impressively so I must say – he then had to dodge between two stewards to run and punch the air in the goalmouth.
Victory came after the defeats to Fulham and Blackburn in which seven goals were shipped. A clean sheet eluded them in South Yorkshire but the one conceded did little damage as a whole.
What it did do was make North End focus, reboot and hit back quickly, parity restored within seven minutes.
Barnsley’s opener was avoidable, Victor Adeboyejo flicking the ball over Liam Lindsay down the side of the box, lifting it back over him near the byline and laying it back to Aiden Marsh who drove home a powerful finish from 10 yards.
While PNE never recovered from conceding early in the last two games, they did so this time.
Brad Potts moved the play in field from the right-wing with a pass to Riis who carried the ball towards the box before threading it to Johnson on the left side of the box.
Johnson’s finish was first-time and low back across the keeper into the far corner, brushing the inside of the post on the way in.
The second goal from the Jamaica international was even better, chances having come for Riis, Ben Whiteman and Patrick Bauer in between.
Nine minutes after half-time Potts powered down the right and sent over a cross which evaded the jump of intended target Cameron Archer in the box.
Browne retrieved it on the far side of the box and laid it back to Johnson, who brought it under control with a roll of the boot before curling a shot away from the keeper into the far top corner.
They were goals six and seven for DJ in the league this season, with another in the FA Cup.
Team-mate Riis took his tally to 19 in all competitions 16 minutes from time. Sepp van den Berg’s pass played him through, Riis taking the ball wide of keeper Jack Walton and rolling home a shot from an acute angle.