Sheffield United: The Blades take a point as Dean Henderson proves one

First he raised both arms aloft. Then, after checking the danger actually had passed, pointed a finger towards one corner of the Vicarage Road Stand where his name was being sung with gusto.

Sunday, 6th October 2019, 6:32 pm
Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson: Robin Parker/Sportimage

It was the first of two moments when Dean Henderson ensured Sheffield United would take at least a point from their latest Premier League fixture and, following the most challenging week of his career, proved one to sections of the commentariat.

After a costly error against Liverpool seven days earlier, the goalkeeper entered United's meeting with Watford under intense scrutiny. Not only did Henderson know further slips or mistakes would be analysed to the 'nth degree, he also understood they would be used as evidence that Chris Wilder's critique of his previous performance had, as one news presenter rather hysterically suggested, threatened his mental well-being. It was, even for this supremely confident 22-year-old, a huge weight to bear.

Henderson's response, which underlined why many believe he is an England player in waiting, came in the shape of an excellent save to deny Danny Welbeck before scrambling Craig Dawson's later header off the line. Speaking after the goalless draw, which saw United enter the international break averaging more than a point per game, Wilder was not surprised. By either the reaction of his player or the travelling fans.

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"Nobody would be, not just me or the coaching staff," the United manager said. "The reception Dean got, we all know about that relationship. He's been outstanding.

"It stung him a bit last week, of course it did. But in football and in life, it's how to react to things like that. Other than possibly one bit early on, where there was a little bit of a miscommunication between him and Bash (Chris Basham), he was really good with everything he did.

"Everything that went on around him, he was neat and tidy. I thought he looked a really good goalkeeper out there."

Wilder's decision to highlight arguably the one poor decision Henderson made in Hertfordshire - when a mix-up with Basham ended with Andre Gray firing over the crossbar - was arguably more revealing than the praise he showered on the youngster. Why? Because it demonstrated he understands the different personalities within his squad and appreciates some members require encouragement and others, Henderson included, appreciate a more forthright approach. The latter might not sit comfortably with many folk in the modern game, who believe footballers should rarely shoulder personal responsibility for their own actions. But given United's results, and Henderson's contribution to them, it clearly works at Bramall Lane.

"I like to think I can get a tune out of my players," Wilder said. "I think I have done in the past and I like to think we do as a staff. Because you wouldn't have done what these players have done, with the resources we've had, without that. Without us backing or supporting them.

"They're strong boys. Being a professional footballer is tough. Being a Premier League player is tougher. You just have to get over the next hurdle."