First few months toughest of career, says Derby County's Jeff Hendrick
JEFF Hendrick says the last few months have been the toughest of his career so far.
The 20-year-old Derby County midfielder had been struggling to reproduce his form of last season, when he landed the club's Young Player of the Year award.
He could not put his finger on the reasons why and says the dip in form damaged his confidence but he has impressed in the last two games, against Leeds United and Bristol City.
"The last two performances have definitely been my best and I'm happy to get back to playing well," said Hendrick.
"I have been beating myself up the last few months just trying to get back to the form I showed last season.
"I would come into training and work really hard but I couldn't find my form.
"It was frustrating and I lost a bit of confidence.
"I was up at night thinking what I could do to make things better but, hopefully, that's behind me now and I can push on.
"The manager and the coaching staff told me to get more on the front foot. In training ahead of the Leeds match, I built a bit of confidence and they just told me to take that confidence into the game. Thankfully, I did.
"Everybody got behind me and helped me.
"As some people have said, I am only 20, so it is good to have the help."
Hendrick is set to keep his place in what could be an unchanged Derby team to face Hull City at Pride Park tonight.
Craig Bryson (knee), Will Hughes (ankle), Gareth Roberts (calf) and Mark O'Brien (cramp) are expected to be fit. O'Brien has also been unwell this week.
"We've had to be a bit careful this week with a few players but all of them should be available," said coach Andy Garner. "Some have not trained, some have done a bit of light training."
Derby normally line up 4-4-2 at home but they won at Bristol City last Saturday with a 4-5-1 formation and Garner admits the three players in central midfield – Hughes, Bryson and Hendrick – are very important to the team.
"We've got options with systems and players. We just want the team out there that we think will win the match," said Garner.
"I think those three players in there, especially now that Jeff has found his form, are vital to us. I think the system works very well."
Hull have the best away record in the Championship and can go joint top with a win tonight.
Derby have one of the best home records and three points would see them move to within a point of the top six.
"We are expecting a very hard game," said Garner.
"Hull have a good squad of players and obviously a good manager but they know it will be difficult for them as well.
"I think clubs coming to Pride Park know that we aren't bad."
Tonight marks the halfway stage of Derby's season. They have collected 33 points from 22 games.
"We are satisfied where we are, given the size of the squad and the money we have spent, but we now think we can go a little bit further," said Garner.
"Prior to the season, we were probably looking at 10th but now we think we can push on a little bit with the way we are playing and the players we have got."
Swiss defender Valentin Gjokaj could return to the squad after being recalled from his loan spell at Carlisle United. The 19-year-old made only one appearance as a sub at the League One club.