Dave Seddon's Preston North End press view: Alan Browne's new deal will get PNE fans singing again
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Stoke away, January 26, 2019, the Britannia Stadium at its usual chilly best.
Browne gave PNE the lead that afternoon and the travelling fans launched into the ‘Baluga’ song in his honour.
It was louder than ever and was captured on film, played out on social media in the hours afterwards.
North End supporters have sung it many times since – not in the last 10 months obviously – but never so impressively as that day in the Potteries.
Had Browne not signed his new contract this week and at some point in the months to come left Deepdale, the strains of ‘He’s always in Baluga......’ would never have been heard again.
With the ink fresh on a three-and-a-half year deal, there is now the prospect of singing about Browne’s night-time manoeuvres when at some point we gather together in stadiums once again.
Of course getting the Irishman to sign on the dotted line wasn’t about hearing ‘Baluga’ being belted out but could you imagine Browne not being at Deepdale?
He’s been here seven years now and the length of the new contract could tip him over the 10-year mark in terms of service.
To see him in the colours of another Championship club would have been strange, tough to take.
Players come and go but the longer they stay, the more the affection grows.
At 25, Browne should have the best years of his career in front of him and those will now be at Preston. From within a few months of his arriving in Lancashire, Browne has been part of the fixtures and fittings in the North End squad.
Simon Grayson gave him his debut in March 2014 against Peterborough, the Lilywhites 3-1 winners that night.
Browne’s only lengthy spell out of the squad since was in the second-half of the 2014/15 promotion season as Grayson lent on experience in the midfield.
Out of nowhere, Browne emerged as a substitute in the second leg of the play-off semi-final against Chesterfield, then played nearly an hour as a sub in place of the injured Paul Gallagher at Wembley as Swindon were swept aside.
There’s no doubt though, that is has been under Alex Neil’s stewardship that Browne has flourished to the point he’s now the highest-paid player at Preston by reason of the new deal.
Neil liked Browne from the start, handing him a marking job on Barry Bannan in his first league game in charge against Sheffield Wednesday in August 2017.
Scoring from 40 yards against Cardiff the following month – his first goal for more than a season – further put a smile on Neil’s face.
When Browne came in for a touch of stick towards Christmas of that season, there was a staunch defence from the manager.
Eight more goals came in the second half of the campaign, including winners at QPR and Sheffield United as PNE came close to a play-off place.
Browne scored 12 times in 2018/19, then a modest four last season.
He’s got three so far this season, two of those securing a 2-1 win at Huddersfield and the other settling the Boxing Day visit to Derby.
A deeper midfield role has probably led to the slow-down in goals – that said, all three goals this season have come when he’s been playing at right-back/wing-back.
Neil has handed Browne the club captaincy this season which shows the manager’s high regard for him and recognition of his leadership skills.
Not a shouter by nature, perhaps he leads more by example on the field.
On the contract, Browne clearly played hardball to get things to the position they did this week.
There was a time when it seemed like the deal would go unsigned before some common – and it must be said sensible – ground was found.
What of the other three who Browne was in the same boat as until Wednesday?
I don’t like referring to them as ‘contract rebels’, a phrase I’ve seen elsewhere, which indicates they are doing something wrong.
As frustrating as things are, they have a view on all this and are sticking to it.
As the clock ticks, you do fear that Ben Pearson, Daniel Johnson and Ben Davies are playing an endgame.
Either they hope interest crops up before the end of the month or they hold out until the summer.
If it’s the former, North End have the chance of getting money for them.
Should February 1 – the last day of the transfer window – come and go without bids coming in, the chance of getting a fee goes.
Were Pearson, Johnson and Davies not to stay, it will be interesting to see where they next play their football.
Johnson and Davies have had interest from Rangers and Celtic respectively, which could point towards pre-contract agreements ahead of summer moves.
Bournemouth have shown the strongest interest in Davies, in the fact they did make a bid for him in the autumn, offering £3m.
Should the Cherries bring some cash in with a sale before the end of the month, could they return for Davies?
So far the interest in Pearson hasn’t been quite as strong. That has the potential to change but being out injured might have taken some attention away for now.
The window often hots up the closer to the end, so that could trigger movement.
It was precisely for that reason North End made their move for Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby early.
Effectively that is Johnson and Pearson covered off in terms of midfield slots.
Should they stay for the remainder of the season, Neil’s selection will be an interesting one.
Does he lean towards players with a longer-term PNE future or still have in mind the tried and tested? Or a combination of both?
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