Sheffield United: Why Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone could be the ones who decide if The Blades, West Bromwich Albion or both win promotion

On Saturday, when Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone go head to head at The Hawthorns, the outcome of their duel could have major implications for the outcome of this season's race for automatic promotion from the Championship.

Thursday, 21st February 2019, 13:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st February 2019, 13:27 pm
Dean Henderson with Gary Madine: James Wilson/Sportimage

With less than a handful of points separating the division's leading four teams, the chances of goal difference deciding the top two placings are growing increasingly likely by the week meaning both Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion have plenty of reason to go for the jugular if they wrestle control of the fixture.

It is a possibility which places goalkeepers as well as goalscorers under the spotlight and explains why, after watching him deny Reading a late consolation last weekend, Chris Wilder was quick to praise Henderson's performance during an emphatic 4-0 win.

West Bromwich Albion's Sam Johnstone: Andy Yates/PA Wire

"I think they've been the two outstanding ones in the division," he said, replying to a question about the supposed dearth of young English shot-stoppers. "I'm a big fan of their 'keeper (Johnstone) and when he was at Aston Villa last season, I think he was a big part in getting them to the play-off final. Dean has been a really big part of what we're doing too."

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Henderson, on loan from Manchester United, is a good friend of Johnstone having worked with his opposite number at Old Trafford. Although the latter severed his ties with the former Premier League champions last summer, joining West Brom in a deal worth a reported ¬£6.5m, the two remain in close contact. 

Indeed, Henderson's admission earlier this season that he encouraged Johnstone to strike out on his own rather than play second fiddle to David de Gea and Sergio Romero provides some clues about his own intended career path. After impressing at Bramall Lane, where his work with young fans has seen him establish an excellent rapport with United's supporters, Henderson is unlikely to relish the prospect of returning to reserve team football in the North-West.

If Wilder's side can reach the top-flight, it is likely they will receive encouragement to sign the England under-21 international.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"The fact West Brom could go out there and get Sam, for what they paid, that shows the power of the club," Wilder said. "We're trying to drive it forward, at our own pace, too."