The 19th of December is a date that has been marked out on the Brownhill family calendar every year since 1995. That was the date on which Josh was born, and while there may have been some exuberant celebrations over the years, the Bristol City man’s latest birthday is set to be a much quieter affair.
Turning 22 today, there will be no partying. Instead, Brownhill will be preparing for the biggest game of his career, when the in-form Robins welcome Manchester United to Ashton Gate in the Carabao Cup Quarter-Finals on Wednesday evening, in a game screened live on Sky Sports.
The young midfielder spent the best part of a decade with the Red Devils, up until his release as a 16-year-old. He wasn’t knocked down for long. Around 18 months later, Brownhill was establishing himself as a first-team regular in the EFL, and he’s keen to show how much he has grown in the years that have since passed.
“I was at Manchester United from the age of six, and got released just before a scholarship,” Brownhill recalled. “I have really fond memories of my time there and made some great mates along the way, who I still keep in touch with.
“At the time, getting released was horrible. Especially as a little kid, it’s one of the worst things you can think of. Now, looking back, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I wouldn’t have played as many games as I have done. Within a year and a half, I was playing for Preston North End and I’ve been playing regular first-team football ever since.
“There’s no thoughts of revenge or anything like that. Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and it’s so hard to get into their team, but I do want to show them how much I have developed since leaving.”
Bristol City have earned their shot at the reigning Carabao Cup champions after a string of impressive displays in the competition so far. After seeing off Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in Round One, three Premier League sides have since fallen by the wayside.
Watford were beaten 3-2 on the road, and then it was back on home turf for ties against Stoke City and Crystal Palace — Brownhill returning to play his part in respective 2-0 and 4-1 victories in BS3.
Since that win over the Eagles, and the subsequent draw which paired them against United, the focus has been solely on the Championship. Head coach Lee Johnson hasn't allowed his side to look past the very next game, and has since watched his side pick up 22 points from a possible 27, climbing to third in the Championship.
After defeating Nottingham Forest at the weekend for their fourth league win in a row, all eyes could finally turn to the clash with Jose Mourinho’s men. It’s all a far cry from last term, when Brownhill’s solitary strike at Brighton & Hove Albion secured survival on the penultimate week of the season.
What a feeling 😄! Secured a place in the championship next season and scored my first goal, been a longtime coming! Fans were class 👏🏻🔴— Josh Brownhill (@Brownhill10) April 29, 2017
So, what’s changed?
“At the beginning of the season, and in pre-season, we all worked really hard and bought into what the manager believes in,” Warrington-born Brownhill explained. “He got everybody reading off the same script and we’ve just taken off from there.
“Everyone starts off at the beginning of the season hoping to be where we are, so that was our aim. We maybe didn’t think we’d be quite as high, but that’s credit to the team and management on and off the pitch.
“Everything’s going really well which gives us massive confidence going into this game. It’s always tough playing Premier League opposition, but that’s where we want to be next year so we’ve got to be competing against these teams.
“Because of the league and because of the position we’re in, we’ve had to focus on each game at a time. But as soon as we were finished on Saturday, the boys were saying we can start to look forward. It’s massive for us, you don’t get many opportunities to play against one of the best teams in world — especially in the quarter-final of a Cup.
“Obviously it’s not going to be easy, but if they’re off their game and we’re on it like we have already shown, then I don’t see why we can’t win. Especially at home in front of our fans, with the buzz around the ground. It’ll be tough, but we all believe we can do it.”