Ten of the best: Dean Henderson - A loan ranger who completely bought into Sheffield United

It will soon be five years since Chris Wilder took charge of Sheffield United before presiding over a remarkable rise up the divisions to the Premier League.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 6:00 pm

Over the course of that half a decade many players failed to make a mark with the Blades but there are others who wrote themselves into Bramall Lane folklore.

As part of a special series from The Star, we take a look at 10 of them - with Danny Hall profiling former loanee Dean Henderson.

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Dean Henderson relaxed into a chair in Chris Wilder's Bramall Lane office and told the Sheffield United manager up front that he was there to help the Blades win promotion to the Premier League that season.

To anyone who has had the pleasure of Henderson's company, such confidence will not come as a surprise. He was 21 years old and fresh from a successful season in League One, where he helped Shrewsbury Town to the play-off final.

But he knew he was ready for the Championship. And he didn't want to be there long.

"When we spoke, the Gaffer told me that he wanted a goalkeeper who could come in and win games, win points," Henderson told The Star.

Dean Henderson was Sheffield United's No.1 for two season: James Wilson/Sportimage

"When he said that, I thought: 'That's me all over. He'll love me this guy'.

"I came to Bramall Lane and sat in his office, and I mentioned promotion then. I said I just want to get promoted. And when we did, he pulled me to one side and asked if I remembered that chat we'd had.

"I said: 'Yeah, I told you'. I think he thinks I'm psychic!"

Dean Henderson in the tunnel at Wigan: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Despite such unwavering self-belief, though, this was a big move for Henderson. A Manchester United player since moving from Carlisle as a young boy, Henderson was never content to sit at Carrington and simply call himself a Red Devils player, instead pushing to get out on loan and prove his worth.

Short spells at Stockport County and Grimsby Town gave him a taste of 'proper' football, before a season at Shrewsbury - under Wilder's pal, Paul Hurst - saw him catch the eye of the United boss and his staff.

Two defeats in United's opening two games was an inauspicious start, but the Blades got up and running with victory away at QPR before Henderson really announced himself with an astonishing save at home to Norwich City.

Jack O'Connell's clearance ricocheted off Tom Trybull and landed invitingly for Moritz Leitner, who was clearly offside in United’s half. The offside flag somehow never came and as the decibel level rose inside Bramall Lane, Leitner, Onel Hernández and Teemu Pukki raced towards Henderson's goal.

Dean Henderson celebrates Sheffield United getting promoted to the Premier League with his dad Dougie and mum Yvonne: James Wilson/Sportimage

The goalkeeper stood tall. Leitner, he noticed, looked nervous and didn't seem to spot teammates either side of him. "If he passed, I was snookered," Henderson later admitted. But Leitner didn't, and elected to shoot himself. Henderson saved the shot with his body, Bramall Lane erupted, and the young goalkeeper loved every minute.

"The noise sounded as loud as a goal to me," he said.

"It was special because the sound was deafening. For me, it’s like scoring a goal … that’s what a goalkeeper dreams of. Three against one, they think it’s in, and then I make the save.”

Henderson won the Championship's golden glove award that season for keeping the most clean sheets, calling his parents Yvonne and Dougie down from the stands at Stoke on the final day to share the moment.

And after a summer of rumour and uncertainty, it was revealed that Henderson would rejoin United on loan for their Premier League season.

Henderson was a big hit with United's fans: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

As he recovered from another heavy day of drinking celebrating promotion - "I'm struggling to keep up, I'm not like this," he admitted at one stage - he told this newspaper that he felt the Premier League would suit him better than any other division he had previously experienced.

And so it proved. For much of the season United had one of the best defensive records in the division as they looked to qualify for Europe and even at Henderson's lowest moments that season, like when he let Gini Wijnaldum's volley slip through his grasp for the winner against Liverpool at Bramall Lane, he held his head up high and took the responsibility. He didn't hide.

Given the strides he took during his two years at Bramall Lane, it was always very unlikely that United would enjoy him for a third and so it proved, as he returned to Manchester United and later won his first full England cap.

Henderson fully bought into life as a Blade, though, and will never forgot his short spell in South Yorkshire - no matter how far he goes in the game.

The Highlight

It was a pleasant February evening at Villa Park, and Sheffield United were cruising.

Three goals up against Aston Villa, they were top of the Championship as things stood. And then disaster struck, conceding three goals in eight minutes to draw 3-3.

Henderson was blamed for at least one of Villa's late goals, especially in a heated 'debate' in the away dressing room afterwards which saw, let's say, a number of players have their say on what had gone wrong.

United and Henderson could easily have gone under.

Instead, he went the other way, keeping seven clean sheets on the bounce to show that United, and Henderson, were made of sterner stuff than many on the outside may have believed.

"I've never felt as bad, for days afterwards," Henderson remembered about the pain of Villa Park.

“Looking back, though, it was the turning point of our season. I’m sure any of the boys would say the same… Aston Villa away made Sheffield United go to the Premier League.

"It levelled me out, definitely. I took my foot off the gas at Villa and it was a good learning curve for me. Karma came for me and I got punished for it. I take full responsibility for that day.

"But I like to think that I came back from it."

He certainly did - and then some.