Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: The rise of Alan Browne
Alan Browne pulled on the Preston North End shirt for the 150th time in the midweek draw at Aston Villa.
In line with many of his appearances this season, he marked the milestone game with an excellent display.
If the Irishman wasn’t North End’s best performer on the night at Villa Park, then he wasn’t far behind.
And perhaps after a string of man-of-the-man awards, it was time for someone else to take the honour – it is good to share after all.
It is fair comment that this has been a coming of age season for Browne at PNE.
There has always been plenty of promise offered by him since his Preston debut which came just under four years ago in March 2014.
But he seems to have found an identity this term under the management of Alex Neil who has placed the utmost trust in him.
Previous boss Simon Grayson liked Browne and played him on 116 occasions, however Neil’s faith in the 22-year-old is at a different level.
Neil identified a different role for Browne at the start of the season and steadily he has grown into it.
He wanted him further forward, not always in more of the sitting role which he’d tended to play in the past.
The advanced midfield role in a 4-2-3-1 generally gets labelled as the No.10.
Browne doesn’t quite fit that traditional description in the way Josh Harrop for example might.
Often the No.10 position offers the image of a creative, somewhat floaty player.
But that is not an exact science and Neil has Browne playing there to give the team something different.
It is more his energy and running to pull defences out of shape and allow others to exploit the room.
Saying that, Browne seems more confident now in and around the box and his headed goal against Wolves last week was a sign of that growing belief.
He still does box-to-box and holding roles – when John Welsh got the red card in the Wolves game, Browne dropped into a central role in a 4-4-1.
At Brentford, he started deeper as the designated ‘tackler’ in the absence of Ben Pearson.
When Neil opted for 4-4-2 at Aston Villa, Browne and Pearson bossed the middle of the pitch as a duo.
How he is utilised for the visit of Ipswich this weekend will be interesting – does Neil go 4-4-2 again or revert to the 4-2-3-1 in at attempt to move the Tractor Boys around?
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Browne this term, as recently as Nottingham Forest’s visit on December 23 Neil had to jump to his defence when a smattering of booing accompanied him being substituted.
More and more though, he is being appreciated and his performances of the last few weeks have helped that.
Browne is like a few in the Preston squad who were signed as something of a punt – low risk but with the potential to shine.
He could even be said to have been the first nod in that direction as some youth was added to a PNE squad chasing promotion out of League One.
It was in January 2014 that Browne was signed from Cork City where he had been playing Under-19s football.
Famously, the tip-off about his talent came from a horse-racing contact of PNE owner Trevor Hemmings.
A fee of £25,000 brought him over the water when he was still 17, his debut coming a couple of months later as a substitute in a 3-1 win over Peterborough.
He featured in nine games that season, going on to make 21 starts and 11 appearances as a sub the following term.
For three months in the second-half of that campaign Browne was totally out of the picture.
He returned to feature in the play-off semi-final second leg against Chesterfield and in the final at Wembley, replacing Paul Gallagher in the first-half as North End cruised to a 4-0 victory over Swindon.
Browne made more than 30 Championship starts in each of the last two seasons, with him currently having played 34 times in all competitions this campaign.
The aim for him is to keep pushing on, producing more of the performances we have witnessed in recent weeks.
Him and Pearson really shone at Villa in midweek, with a good portion of the team on song that night.
I rated spells of the game as among the best North End had played this season, thus a little disappointment that they only brought back a point from the Midlands.
It could still a good point in the grand scheme of things and how many of us would have taken a draw if it had been offered in advance?
What will turn it into a very good point is if North End could get themselves on a winning run.
Wins are what are needed to break into the top six and stay there, with a real battle developing for a couple of play-off places.
Meanwhile, the vote by EFL clubs to have an earlier close to the transfer window in August is a sensible one.
While clubs will still have to negotiate their first game before trading ceases, managers should at least have a better idea of what they have to work with rather than do a late trolley dash.
Loans are still permitted to the end of August though.