Sheffield United can benefit from England battle

When Gareth Southgate names his squad for England’s friendlies against Italy and Denmark next month it would be a major surprise if, unless injury or illness decide to intervene, Dean Henderson does not feature among the 26 or so players summoned to St George’s Park.

Friday, 28th February 2020, 6:23 pm

The 22-year-old, now approaching the end of his second loan spell with Sheffield United, has been in superb form since helping Chris Wilder’s squad win promotion to the Premier League. No other English goalkeeper, barring Burnley’s Nick Pope, has kept more clean sheets in the competition this term.

With Jordan Pickford, Southgate’s first choice between the posts in recent seasons, producing a series of indifferent displays at Everton, Henderson and Pope should sense an opportunity.

And Chris Wilder believes the question marks surrounding who should don the gloves when the Three Lions play their first game of this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament could have a positive impact upon United’s own European aspirations.

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“We all have our opinions on Dean,” Wilder said. “The most important one is Gareth’s.

“He’s pushing though and he’s been instrumental in our form.

“His concentration levels too. That is huge.

“The remaining games are also huge if Dean wants to get there and, as you can imagine, he does.”

Dean Henderson in action for Sheffield United against the reigning Premier League champions Manchester City: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The matches Wilder was referring to are not the meetings with the Azzurri or Age Hariede’s side. Rather it is United’s final 11 outings of the PL season, beginning with next weekend’s visit of Norwich City, which Wilder suspects are likely to decide whether or not Henderson gets the nod ahead of Pickford or Pope.

And with United finishing the latest round of fixtures in seventh, unbeaten in three and only four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, another series of commanding performances could, particularly with Tottenham Hotspur and Frank Lampard’s men yet to appear at Bramall Lane, prove the difference between a mid-table or a top six finish.

Henderson will be ineligible for selection when United face his parent club Manchester United on March 21, with Michael Verrips now seemingly in pole position to deputise at Old Trafford.

Simon Moore, a veteran of United’s 2017 League One title winning squad, performed that role when Manchester United travelled to South Yorkshire three months ago but has failed to make the bench since recovering from a groin complaint sustained ahead of December’s victory over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has been impressed by Dean Henderson's performances so far this season: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Intriguingly, despite representing a team which, until August, had not competed at the highest level since 2007, Henderson’s projected ‘goals conceded average’ (0.97) is lower than both Pickford (1.23) and Pope (1.25).

That is a measure not only of United’s defensive solidity but also, given that they have scored fewer times than all of the division’s top 12 clubs, Henderson’s ability to make big saves at big moments.

In front of the watching Southgate, he enjoyed a relatively trouble free afternoon when Brighton and Hove Albion drew 1-1 with United last weekend. But Henderson, who was powerless to prevent Neal Maupay cancelling out Enda Stevens’ opener, did catch the eye with his organisational skills; marshalling United’s rearguard with a minimum of fuss or theatrics.

That will also have left an impression on Southgate, who has shown a willingness to give youth a chance after taking charge of England in 2016.

So have the Sheffield United supporters: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“We’ve just got to stay focused and trying to improve,” Wilder, who has already begun exploring the possibility of extending Henderson’s agreement for a second time, said. “All of us. We don’t want to settle for what we’ve got or be comfortable.”