Home comforts for happy Hendo

The 20-year-old England midfielder, who had found himself a target

for the club’s critics in the depths of their nine-game winless

run, capped a fine individual display with two goals in yesterday’s

4-2 victory over Wigan which all but ended their fears of

relegation. Henderson has found the going tough since coming to

national prominence when he was handed his first senior

international cap in November. Manager Steve Bruce even left him

out for the 3-2 home defeat by West Brom a fortnight ago in a bid

to freshen him up, but the local boy provided the perfect response

to his detractors. Asked how the recent criticism had affected him,

Henderson said: “I don’t think it has been tough, to be fair. I

have got the right people around me to keep my confidence up and

keep me intact. “I have just been knuckling down, keeping my head

down and hopefully it paid off today. “If we haven’t won in a

couple of weeks, I have to do my shopping online. I can’t really go

out of the house. “But that comes with football and I have got to

deal with it, and I have got to be man enough to respect their

opinions.” Henderson’s revival could hardly have come at a better

time for his home-town club after fortune appeared to have deserted

them once again. With 26 minutes of the game gone, full-back Phil

Bardsley had left the field on a stretcher after being knocked

unconscious by team-mate Nedum Onuoha and as he headed for

hospital, striker Danny Welbeck suffered a recurrence of his

hamstring injury. Things took a decided turn for the worse seven

minutes after the break when, for the second time in as many

seasons, Mohamed Diame lit up the Stadium of Light with a stunning

strike. The lead lasted just three minutes thanks to Asamoah Gyan’s

close-range header, his 11th goal of the season, but the Ghana

international was back in the dressing room within nine minutes

after pulling up clutching his hamstring to leave Bruce without a

single senior striker. It was then that Henderson took over, first

controlling substitute Sully Muntari’s 66th-minute cross on his

chest before lashing a left-foot half-volley into the top corner,

and then after emergency frontman Stephane Sessegnon had won and

coolly converted a 73rd-minute penalty, accepting the Benin

international’s pass and stroking his second past keeper Ali Al

Habsi. Four goals in 22 minutes were more than enough to account

for Wigan, who reduced the deficit at the death through substitute

Franco di Santo, although that could not spoil Henderson’s

afternoon. Bruce said: “It was special for him. I have only

freshened him up for one week – maybe I should have freshened him

up for a month. “I knew that the kid was running on empty,

unfortunately, and everybody in the ground plus me knew, but with

the problems we had, it was impossible to leave him out.” The

injuries to Gyan and Welbeck will be assessed over the next few

days, but with Fraizer Campbell already sidelined for most of next

season, the Black Cats will welcome Fulham to Wearside next week

with their striking ranks potentially fully depleted, although with

Henderson having staked his own claim for a more advanced role. He

said: “To be fair, I am not bothered where I play as long as I am

playing. “I had a little bit of a point to prove after the last

couple of games – hopefully I did that.” Victory lifted Sunderland

from 15th place to 10th and in the process, plunged Wigan back into

the bottom three. Latics boss Roberto Martinez, however, was far

from downhearted as he contemplated the final four games of a

difficult campaign. He said: “The way the competition is going this

season, I just feel it is going to go down to the last day of the

campaign. “We are looking at the points tally we are going to get

that day and believe me, it’s no different if you are in the bottom

three or if you are fourth from bottom on goal difference. “I don’t

think that’s going to make the difference by achieving our aim of

staying in the Premier League or not.”