I have never been the biggest fan of midfielder Jeff Hendrick, apart from the wonder strike at the City Ground, has he changed this season?
Last season saw him emerge onto Nigel Clough’s first team, even keeping then young player of the year James Bailey out the side. I believed, particularly after his winning goal at Nottingham Forest, that he was overrated by some supporters. He had some fantastic games but I thought he had a fair few really terrible ones, where he couldn’t get in the games at all. Fans ignored his less impressive games, riding on his brilliant winning goal in the September East Midlands derby. I was impressed with the potential he had shown but definitely didn’t believe he was worthy of an almost automatic place in the team. When Tom Carroll, who I was less than impressed with, arrived on-loan from Premiership side Tottenham he played alongside Jeff, which meant that Craig Bryson was occasionally even pushed out wide to accommodate them!
The 2011/12 campaign saw the young Irishman win the club’s young player of the year award, which I think he deserved. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he was a good player but just not what people made him out to be.
The current campaign started off and has continued with Jeff much more out of the limelight than he was last season. Fellow academy graduate and central midfielder Will Hughes has had much more of the attention, with some very high standard performances that has even had him linked with Spanish giants Barcelona. Nigel Clough had a bit of a dilemma for selection in the midfield part of the time, due to having Bryson, Hughes and Hendrick. He incorporated all three of the players, with Hughes shifting wide left. I didn’t believe this was right, Hughes clearly could do better centrally and for that I’d certainly put him in centre-midfield and Hendrick on the bench, Jeff didn’t appear to offer enough for Hughes to be shifted out of position.
As the season progressed I grew more frustrated that Hendrick wasn’t doing enough for a spot in the team. It seemed to me that he was almost automatic for team selection come 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, when the team line-ups are released. Suddenly, for the game against Birmingham City in November, Hendrick was dropped to the bench. The game at home to Cardiff City also saw the Irish under-21 international benched.
‘Coming out of the team will not do him any harm at all’ are the words of boss Nigel Clough on dropping the midfielder. It seemed that Jeff did need a rest, also so Clough could allow Bryson an opportunity to link up with Hughes centrally. Clough believed it would be ‘beneficial’ for him to be given a breather for a couple of games. First team coach Johnny Metgod added ‘I think we might be forgetting that he is only 20. He only started to play in the Championship last season and so he is bound to struggle sometimes because he is still learning the trade. He went through one of those times when things did not go the way he wanted them to and the way we wanted them to. So we gave him a breather because sometimes if you keep them in the team it can create an even bigger problem for the player.’
After two matches away from the starting line-up, Hendrick returned for the defeat at Leicester City as Craig Bryson was sidelined with an injury. It was a 4-1 disaster for Derby but when the Rams did have their spells of dominance, Hendrick was involved. The 20-year old kept his place in the team for the next game, against Leeds United. The 3-1 win over Leeds was, by far, the best game I’d seen Jeff play all season at that point. Despite Scotsman Craig Bryson being cleared fit to play for the Rams’ next outing, at struggling Bristol City, Hendrick kept his place. Midfield pair Hendrick and Bryson both grabbed a goal to secure a rare away win for Derby. Jeff’s next goal came in the New year win over Middlesbrough and then came another in the 5-0 demolition of Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup.
The turning point for the youngster this season has, without doubt, been him being left out of the side. Perhaps it made him realise he’ll have to do a bit more to earn a place in the starting line-up. After returning to the side Hendrick, by his own omission, admitted that he had struggled at points during the current campaign ‘It has been hard when things weren’t going my way and I was not performing as well as I’ve wanted. I’ve been beating myself up over it’, the words of Hendrick.
It’s fair to say he has looked a much better player after being left out and returning, let’s hope he can keep it up!