IT WASN’T the best of weeks for Sheffield United’s young goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Beaten at the near post as Brentford grabbed an early lead at Griffin Park in midweek and a schoolboy gaffe which gifted Leeds United all three points at Bramall Lane.
Nevertheless he emerged with his reputation enhanced thanks to a demonstration of character which says all you need to know about the confident Cumbrian who has a giant future in the game.
Defender John Egan, however, has still to put a hand up and acknowledge his part in the defining incident. Henderson’s decision not to put the ball into row Z and instead try a meek and fruitless pass out of the box is, of course, indefensible. It rolled to the feet of Leeds’ Jack Clarke who turned and lifted the ball over the keeper’s desperate dive to block its path and Pablo Hernandez, all on his own in front of a gaping net, slotted the ball home.
But Egan’s silence is a little strange given he unnecessarily placed his goalkeeper in a perilous position with a lazy diagonal back pass which forced Henderson well out of the goalmouth and to his left to meet it.
Wilder had said recently his £4m-plus club record buy from Brentford is worth double that now. Well not on the strength of his performance against Leeds, playing square balls across the back or behind to Henderson when under no pressure himself instead of looking to move it forward. It was his match-long mindset which led to the fateful ball to Henderson being dispatched – and carelessly – after receiving it from Chris Basham’s throw-in.
Unimaginative, the easy option and certainly not the action of a player the manager claims is now worth about £8m. The fact the 26-year-old Republic of Ireland international has gone to ground, publicly at least – nothing to do with me, gov – doesn’t sit well, either. Don’t forget that Egan marshals an often questionable defence behind which the keeper has sprung to the rescue on numerous occasions. The recent draw at Rotherham a perfect example where Henderson was voted man-of-the-match.
Come the end of Henderson’s season-long loan from Manchester United it is likely the Blades would dearly like to make the 21-year-old’s move permanent. But if his reported wage of £25,000-a-week [£1.3million-a-year] is correct after signing a new deal at Old Trafford in June until 2020 with the option of another year, he is likely to be out of reach unless United are in the Premier League.
Circumstance will intervene but Bramall Lane, its fans and manager, will always have a special place in Hendo’s heart. "This is the first really big club for me [to regularly play for], with a really big fan base,” said the player whose other loan spells were at Shrewsbury Town, Grimsby Town and Stockport County. “The atmosphere at our place gives me goosebumps every time. They are memories that will live with you for the rest of your career."
Many Blades supporters rate Henderson as Wilder’s best signing during his 30 months in charge. His rapid progress at a higher level after playing a key role in helping Shrewsbury to the League One play-off final against winners Rotherham at Wembley last season, will surely have exceeded expectation at Old Trafford.
The latest report arriving for the perusal of Manchester United’s coaching staff who monitor these things, however, will not make great reading. His error at Brentford in a 3-2 win was a matter of split-second timing. But if Henderson’s reaction to events at the Lane is anything to go by he won’t be suffering sleepless nights.
For out of the jaws of humiliation last Saturday the man whose agility and shot-stopping technique along with an infectious enthusiasm which almost instantly established him as a Kop favourite, emerged with huge credit.
Derided mercilessly by Leeds supporters only yards from where the Cumbrian-born keeper’s embarrassing error which enabled Hernandez to secure all three points eight minutes from normal time, Henderson demonstrated the personal character which played such an important part of Wilder’s decision to sign him.
At the final whistle he marched purposefully, almost goose-stepping, to applaud all four sides of the ground,. Applause which was enthusiastically reciprocated, before receiving a pat on the shoulder from Wilder and disappearing down the tunnel with his teammates still on the pitch. Later he tweeted to 52,400 followers “Unfortunately that’s part of the job!! Learn and go again. Thanks for the support.”
Wilder, whilst admitting it was a horrible mistake to undermine United’s performance against one of the favourites for promotion, offered his backing. “He’s a big boy,” said the manager Adding: “It was maybe going to be decided by a bit of magic, taking a chance or a mistake. Unfortunately it's the final one. It's not for me to rub his head. It's about his recovery and attitude afterwards and he'll be fine.”
Henderson is enjoying his time at the Lane and working under Wilder in particular. The player whose maturity belies his years, said recently: “You know where you stand with him. Some managers try and go under the radar and do this and that. But with the gaffer, he is straight and if you are doing something wrong he will tell you. If you are doing something well he will give you a pat on the back.
"Then if he doesn't say too much you know to keep doing what you are doing because you are obviously in his good books. That is what you need from a manager, honesty."
The keeper added: “I have seen a few grumpy mornings but that is the same with every manager. No-one likes to lose and certainly not him, being a Sheffield United fan. What I love about this club is that they have got someone like that in.”
Like Wilder, another perfect match perhaps.