Sheffield United: The moment when Dean Henderson proved to England he has got what it takes
Eleven days ago, when he helped condemn Sheffield United to a defeat their performance did not deserve, Dean Henderson's dreams appeared to be in tatters.
If allowing Georginio Wijnaldum's shot to wriggle through his grasp wasn't bad enough, the knowledge that Gareth Southgate had been watching the whole sorry catastrophe unfold from the stands at Bramall Lane only made matters worse. A place in the England squad, despite the youngster's claims to be the best goalkeeper in the country, appeared to be very far away.
Or so it seemed. Late on Tuesday evening, when Aston Villa's Tom Heaton was forced to withdraw through injury, Henderson found himself being summoned to St George's Park. And it is absolutely possible, given the demands of his position, that the 22-year-old's slip was responsible for convincing Southgate he that he has what it takes to be a senior international.
Henderson's response to the error which presented Liverpool with their victory at Bramall Lane last month, came in the shape of a superb save to deny Mo Salah moments later. When he followed up that block with two more at Watford, ensuring United claimed a draw at Vicarage Road, Southgate, a man who knows more than most about recovering from mistakes, will have known this was a player with real strength of character.
"You’ve got to deal with those things and you’ve got to come through them and make sure you don’t allow those things to shape you," Southgate said in a recent interview, following last summer's World Cup finals.
Southgate understands all about showing courage in the face of adversity having missed a crucial penalty during his own England career. The former Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough centre-half won nearly 50 more caps after Andreas Kopke saved his sport kick during a semi-final against Germany at Euro '96. So perhaps, having witnessed Henderson's ability to shrug-off his despair, he saw something of the youngster in himself. Certainly, mental durability is a requirement for any professional footballer. Particularly those whose position demands they walk such a narrow tightrope between glory and despair.
"Nobody can know what that feels like," Southgate said, remembering his own personal hell several years later. "You are embarrassed...you feel like you have a debt to pay."
Although Henderson is unlikely to start Friday's meeting with the Czech Republic, he could be considered for selection against Bulgaria on Monday should England prevail in Prague. A victory there, over the second-placed team in Group A, could see England qualify for next year's European Championships; effectively rendering the trip to Sofia a dead-rubber. Although Jordan Pickford has started their last nine competitive outings since becoming Southgate's number one, the Everton player has featured in only four of England 's 10 friendlies under Sam Allardyce's successor. Jack Butland has taken part in three, Joe Hart two and Heaton one.
"We can’t look any further than Prague initially and making sure we get that game right. I think we couldn’t be happier with the results in the qualifying group so far but two away games is a different sort of challenge."