Isaac Hayden has a clear idea where it all went right for Newcastle '“ after a blurry end to the season
Isaac Hayden could see clearly by the final whistle.
And he liked what he saw.
But the time Hayden spent on the pitch during Newcastle United’s season-ending game was a bit of a blur.
The midfielder was forced off against Barnsley on Sunday with just 13 minutes on the clock.
Hayden took a blow to the head at St James’s Park and had to leave the pitch.
But the 22-year-old was back on the field for the celebrations which followed the club’s 3-0 win over Barnsley.
The result – and Brighton and Hove Albion’s failure to beat Aston Villa – saw United win the Championship title.
Hayden, initially, had felt that he could play on.
But the England Under-21 international quickly accepted he had to be substituted.
“It’s not the way I wanted to end the season, I’ll tell you that, but I had to be clever with it,” said Hayden, who made 28 league starts for United.
“When it’s that sort of injury, you don’t want to be taking any risks.
“Dummy (Paul Dummett) went in at centre-half and Sadio (Haidara) came on and they did well, so fair play to them.”
Hayden, playing in central defence, was clattered as goalkeeper Rob Elliot came to gather the ball.
“Rob came out and he went to call it,” said Hayden.
“Whoever I was marking – I don’t know who it was – came in and pushed and Rob was coming out, so my head just hit Rob.
“I don’t know what body part it was, but the next think I knew, the physios had come on and I was ‘what happened?’.
“It was one of those where I wanted to carry on, but the protocol is if it’s a head injury, you have to be taken off.
“I said ‘look, I’ll give it a go, I want to see how I feel and we’ll go from there’.
“But I was jogging up the pitch and everything was blurry, so I thought ‘there’s no point doing this’.
“I had to come off anyway because of the protocol, but they said ‘how do you feel?’ and I said ‘I feel all right, but if I’m running around and things are a bit blurry and moving, there’s no point in risking it’.
“I took the smart decision and came off, and we got the three points, which was the main thing.”
At least Hayden – who won promotion through the play-offs with loan club Hull City last season – was able to celebrate with his team-mates after the game.
They lifted the trophy in front of jubilant fans.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hayden, signed from Arsenal by manager Rafa Benitez last summer. “I can’t put it into words.
“Obviously, it’s the second time I have been promoted now in two seasons.
“And this is by far the better way to do it, winning the title, and especially the way we did win it.”
A late goal from Jack Grealish at Villa Park saw Brighton held to a 1-1 draw by Steve Bruce’s Villa, who had had a man sent off.
Chris Hughton’s side had been seven-points clear at the top at one point last month.
But they took just one point from their last three games after securing promotion to the Premier League.
And Newcastle beat Preston North End, Cardiff City and Barnsley in the run-in to edge past them in the last few minutes of a gruelling 46-game season.
“It’s just unbelievable,” added Chelmsford-born Hayden, who scored two Championship goals from midfield.
“Villa obviously did us a favour – and especially with 10 men. So you have got to give them credit and give my old manager Steve Bruce (at Hull) a bit of a pat on the back.
“But it’s fabulous and to do it at home and to have the home crowd behind us was amazing.”
Asked if he had ever felt that the title was beyond United, Hayden said: “I swear on my life, I did believe that there would be a twist in this.
“Even though we were seven points behind with three games to go, anything can happen in football and you still have to believe.
“Until it’s mathematically impossible to achieve, that’s when you have to hold your hands up.
“But there was still a chance and we had to do our job against Preston – obviously we did that – and then Cardiff.
“It could have been easy for us to not put a great performance on or take it easy, because we were already promoted, but it just shows the mentality of the lads and the staff.
“We just wanted to win that title, especially for the fans because it’s been a tough season for them.”
It was a particularly tough season for United’s players.
The likes of Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey have dominated the headlines, but Hayden feels it was truly a collective effort from every member of Benitez’s squad.
“Yes, it is more of a culture thing,” he said.
“People can be easily led into that this player, that player or this player has contributed more.
“But, overall, even in training, players who haven’t played a lot this season have still dug in and done their work and grafted hard.
“And that makes a good mentality for everybody.”