IN-DEPTH: Preston North End ace Alan Browne has big ambitions ahead of new Championship season
Alan Browne finds himself in a completely different place to 12 months ago.
Last year the Irish midfielder was looking to nail down a spot in new manager Alex Neil’s plans as PNE looked to kick on towards the Championship play-offs.
This time around the 23-year-old goes into the new season as North End’s player of the year with plenty expected of the Republic of Ireland international.
Browne insists, however, that nothing has changed from his point of view as he looks to build further on a breakthrough campaign that saw him score nine goals from the middle of the park.
“There’s no real responsibilities on your head just because you’ve had a good season,” he said.
“The boys will be aware of that but they’ll probably want the same again from me this season.
“Even though it was a good season for me I’m not just going to sit back and think ,‘I’m the big dog now’. You’ve got to do it again.
“You can’t have a one-off fluke – you’ve got to improve and I’m sure the boys won’t be happy unless I do that.
“I really believe in my capabilities and believe I can improve on last year whether it be my goals, assists or general performances.
“I think I can definitely kick on and really be a big factor in this team.
“I don’t really put too much expectancy on myself but I’m going into the season with a lot of confidence.”
The performances of Browne and others as North End just missed out on the play-offs last season mean there is plenty of anticipation around Deepdale heading into the new campaign.
Queens Park Rangers and new boss Steve McClaren come to town on Saturday’s opening day with the Lilywhites hoping to get up and running in style.
“I think everybody’s excited, this year more than any other because of how well we did last year and how close we came,” said Browne.
“I don’t think this season could come around fast enough for us.
“Everybody’s come back flying and they know what the gaffer wants from them and he knows what to expect from the boys.
“I think for us it’s a really exciting time because we all know what our job is now and we expect 100 per cent from each other every week.
“We just want to get at it again and try and improve on last season’s performance and position and just kick on again.
“We’ve got a good pre-season under our belts, had some good results and scored plenty of goals.
“I think we’ve certainly improved on that side of things in front of goal.
“There’s a lot more to come from us from where we were at last year and hopefully we can see that in the opening fixtures.
“Hopefully we can come out of the traps and put down a marker.
“It’s going to be a long season but hopefully an enjoyable one.”
The aim is obvious – to turn seventh place into a spot in the play-offs and a shot at reaching the Premier League for the first time.
Perhaps that is why, according to Browne, there have been no lengthy discussions about hopes and objectives for the season ahead.
“We’ve haven’t spoken about anything yet,” he said. “I think everyone is aware of how well we did last year and we’re looking to improve.
“For us that means the play-offs but if we’d finished eighth, ninth or 10th we’d be looking to kick on to those play-off spots at least because of how well we performed.
“We didn’t do well enough to get in there but we did have a lot of bad luck last year.
“We’ve not got off to a great start this year with the injuries but it hasn’t affected our performances or results yet.
“I think in previous seasons we did look above us and think there are some really big teams in this league.
“But this year for me I consider us one of the big teams in the league and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, because we more than matched every team we played last year and we’ll be looking to do the same again this year.
“There are some big clubs coming down but it’s not going to be easy for them.”
The injuries Browne mentions are the only thing to have put a dampener on preparations for the new season.
Billy Bodin’s knee ligament injury is set to rule him out for six months, while Sean Maguire is expected to be sidelined for around eight weeks with his hamstring problem.
Opportunity now knocks elsewhere in the dressing room as Neil also works to finalise his squad before the transfer window shuts next Thursday.
“It’s obviously disappointing for everyone to lose such important players at this stage of the season,” Browne said.
“It’s hard for us to see and they are gutted about the whole thing.
“The boys just have to put an arm around them now and look after them until they are ready to get back.
“The main worry for us is losing two really valuable players and how we’re going to cope with that.
“But we’ve got more than enough talent in this team to replace them and the manager’s probably not done with his business yet either.
“We’ll just see how things pan out and try and get on with it as best as we can.”
With the phoney war over and the competitive fixtures under way this weekend, Browne knows any negative thoughts in the camp have to be put to one side.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen how close we are as a group,” he said.
“We’ve relied on that at times.
“With the injuries we’ve had though it’s a tough time for us but the boys that are fit and ready to go are going to have to get on with things on the pitch.
“We know we have a job to do and we’re going to do that to the best of our capabilities and just push on and try not to focus on the injuries too much.
“The fans will hopefully come out in numbers on Saturday like they usually do, and we will be looking to put on a performance and make it worth their while and I’m sure it will be an enjoyable day if we can do that.”