'Big players and big teams always turn up when it matters' - Newcastle's Isaac Hayden relishes the heat of battle at the Championship summit
Newcastle United midfielder Isaac Hayden is relishing the heat of battle at the top of the Championship table.
The former Arsenal and Hull City man made a return to first-team action last weekend, getting 20 minutes under his belt off the bench as United ran out 2-1 winners over Wigan Athletic.
And six weeks out of the game, having undergone an ankle operation, has not dampened his enthusiasm for the fight at the second tier summit.
Speaking to NUFC TV, Hayden said: "As far as I am concerned big players and big teams always turn up when it matters.
"If you want to be a top player and the best in your position then you've got to be able to perform under the pressure and in the biggest games.
"I relish the opportunity to get stuck in during these seven games and hopefully get over the line.
"We have seven games now to define our season.
"Hopefully I can contribute."
Having had a long absence from the starting XI Hayden has seen the midfield roles taken on by Jack Colback, Jonjo Shelvey and at times Mo Diame.
While the Senegalese performed admirably in there, Colback and particularly Shelvey had made the position their own while he has been out.
Despite this Hayden doesn't feel under any pressure to regain his place.
He explains: "It is a fact of what the manager wants for certain games.
"I was playing well before I got injured.
"I know what I can bring to the team. I know my ability so I trust that. It is then down to the manager to decide.
"I always work hard in training."
Hayden has had to watch on while his teammates went to places like Brighton and Huddersfield and won.
He has also missed out on England Under-21 duty, which he admits was particularly disappointing given that it is his last qualifying tournament cycle before he can no longer be selected.
Frustration has been the order of the day for Hayden.
On his return, he said: "It felt like a long time coming.
"The rehab went really well. I had a good seven or eight days of training which really helped.
"I probably wasn't fit enough to start the game but it was really good to be able to get on and blow the cobwebs out a little bit.
"It's not been easy.
"Before I had played a lot of games - my fitness was at a very good level. I felt really good.
"To get injured and miss out on the internationals was a bit of a blow.
"But it is about turning a negative into a positive. It gave me a little bit of time to rest and to recuperate.
"Hopefully now I can contribute more as the games go on."
Hayden will be hoping to start at St James's Park tomorrow when Burton are the visitors.
Whether he is on the bench or in from the off, he's expecting a tough encounter, despite the opposition's lowly position.
"Home games have been difficult for us this season but it is something that we want to improve on," said Hayden.
"Burton is another tough game.
"Obviously they have beaten Huddersfield - it is not easy because they will come here full of confidence.
"It is a different challenge from the Wednesdays and Leeds.
"Whatever you are fighting for there are pressures. they are all difficult games."