Stepping out of firing line will benefit Jeff Hendrick in long term, says Nigel Clough
NIGEL Clough is confident Jeff Hendrick will bounce back stronger after being left out of the side in Derby County's last two matches.
Hendrick burst onto the scene last season when he became an integral part of the midfield.
His impressive performances caught the eye and earned him the young player of the year award.
This season, however, the 20-year-old has struggled to recapture the same form.
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He plugged away during his 16 starts before he was taken out of the firing line following the 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Craig Bryson and 17-year-old Will Hughes have formed a partnership in central midfield in the recent home matches against Birmingham City and Cardiff City, in which Hendrick made brief appearances as a substitute.
Clough says the breather will do the youngster no harm.
"We have been forced to play him almost continually for the best part of 18 months.
"Now we don't have to. He can have a little breather and watch the game," Clough added.
"It is important to watch as a young player. He hasn't done as well this season as he did last but coming out of the team will not do him any harm at all."
All players suffer dips in form, especially young players like Hendrick, who is still learning the game.
The second season can often prove more difficult for young players because the opposition are more aware of them and make plans to combat their influence on the team.
Rams coach Johnny Metgod, a talented midfielder in his day, says it is important to remember Hendrick's age when discussing his recent form.
"I think we might be forgetting that he is only 20," said Metgod.
"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.
"If you take a player out for a couple of games, he might return fresh and have another crack at it.
"It is always a tough decision to leave any player out but all we can do is pick a team we think has the most chance of winning the game. Inevitably, that will mean players will be left out."
As well as Bryson and Hughes, Paul Coutts can also play in central midfield, as he did in the second half of Tuesday's 1-1 draw against Cardiff when Derby switched to more of a 4-3-3 shape.
Coutts looks at home there, as he does on the right side of midfield where his link-up with right-back John Brayford has proved fruitful.
Derby do not possess the biggest of squads but there is competition for places, something Jamie Ward will add to when he recovers from the hamstring problem.
Metgod points to the importance of competition. "In this league you cannot play 46 games with 11 players, so you need players who make an impact when they come into the team or come on.
"It is the way it should be but it hasn't been that way for a long time."