Dean Henderson’s fledgling career hasn’t really had too many bumps in the road so far.
After a couple of spells in the lower leagues, the youngster went on to enjoy two stellar seasons with Sheffield United, and following a patient wait he’s finally being afforded his chance to stake a claim for the Manchester United number one spot in the absence of David de Gea.
However, United’s first leg draw with Milan saw him come under criticism for his part in Simon Kjaer’s late equaliser.
In truth, precious little was mentioned of the treacherous conditions in Manchester a week ago, with the pouring rain probably accounting for Henderson’s poor attempt at stopping the Danish defender’s late header, though, as a top level goalkeeper he’s going to need to prove he’s got the mental stability and the attitude to bounce back from such errors.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side travelled to Milan on Thursday with Henderson forced to effectively face his demons as he came up against the Serie A giants once again, and the 24-year-old took a huge leap in proving he’s got the mentality to learn and develop from his mistakes.
The United goalkeeper showed no signs of nerves as he came up against the side who only last week benefited from probably his biggest error in a United shirt so far, confidently coming off his line early on to relieve the pressure the home side were beginning to build.
The only time his Old Trafford nightmare threatened to rear its ugly head was as Alexis Saelemaekers unleashed a shot from the edge of the area. The effort was well-struck and nothing more, but Henderson opted to parry the ball away from danger instead of gathering it as it looked like he should have done.
Of course, critics no doubt leapt to their feet to chastise his decision to palm the ball away from goal, but if anything he should be applauded for recognising he’d already made one mistake in the tie which could have cost his side, so stick to the basics and get the ball away from danger instead of potentially dropping another clanger by knocking it back into the area.
Game management is a huge part of any player’s game, particularly a youngster’s and particularly a young goalkeeper’s.
In a position where almost every mistake you ever make will lead to a goal, arguably the hardest part of reaching the top as an elite goalkeeper is possessing the ability to bounce back from your mistakes, and recognising when you should play it safe rather than taking unnecessary risks.
Henderson’s display at San Siro had everything you could ask for from a rookie shot-stopper who was looking to prove his credentials following the first serious slip-up of his United career, and his second-half save from Red Devils old boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured his side’s brilliant 1-0 win as they progressed to the last eight of the Europa League.
All of a sudden that mistake late on against Milan in the first leg looks absolutely irrelevant with United emerging as winners from the last 16 tie, and Henderson’s display in Italy is a big part of the reason his error is now just a minor blotch on his season rather than a catastrophic error.
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