Five-star Jeff Hendrick is Derby County's ace after tough spell early on
JEFF Hendrick has been Derby County's star performer in the past five matches, according to manager Nigel Clough.
Hendrick struggled earlier this season to reproduce his form of last season when he won the club's Young Player of the Year award.
The 20-year-old midfielder was taken out of the firing line for the home games against Birmingham City and Cardiff City at the end of November after he had endured a tough afternoon in the 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace.
But the youngster has dug deep and stormed back to form.
So much so that manager Nigel Clough described Hendrick's display in Tuesday's victory over Middlesbrough as "imperious".
Clough says the consistency shown by the player in recent weeks has been remarkable.
"It has been, especially after his rough start to the season," added Clough.
"Things started to turn for him against Leeds last month and since then he has looked stronger and six inches taller.
"He looked imperious at times last season and he looked imperious again in the Middlesbrough match.
"He has been our star performer in the last four or five games."
Clough believes Hendrick's resurgence is down to the player rediscovering the physical side of his game.
"Maybe after his first season he thought he could have a little strut around midfield and not get involved in the physical side – the heading, the tackling, the running with and without the ball – all the important things midfielders have to do," said Clough.
"He has just started doing that in the last few weeks, and he looks a different player.
"We can talk to him and other players can help him but as a player you have to get through it yourself. That is where you get your strength of character.
"He has come back brilliantly and it is nice to see.
"He looks a very mature midfielder at the moment."
Hendrick and 17-year-old Will Hughes formed the central midfield pairing in Derby's last two games.
"Look through the Championship or through any professional football and you will struggle to find two such youngsters playing in central midfield," said Clough.
"I am sure a few teams look at us and think the central midfield two are only 17 and 20. I don't think opposition managers and coaches think that but some opposition players might think 'let's get at these two kids' but that doesn't happen.
"They have both got very, very bright futures."