Isaac Hayden reveals why he’s ‘playing on the edge’ at Newcastle United
Isaac Hayden says he only knows one way to play – and that’s on the “edge”.
Hayden has been a fixture in Newcastle United’s midfield since the turn of the year.
The 23-year-old, along with Sean Longstaff, was handed a chance because of injuries and the departure of Ki Sung-yueng to the Asian Cup.
Hayden has kept Ki, Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame out of the team since they returned to the squad, having forged an impressive partnership with Longstaff, whose season is all but over after he suffered a knee injury in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham United at the London Stadium.
The result left the club 14th in the Premier League – and nine points above the relegation zone – with nine games left to play.
“When you get in the team, you’ve got the shirt,” said Hayden, who has asked to leave the club in the last two transfer windows to be with his fiancee and infant daughter, who was born prematurely.
“You have to do your best to keep the shirt.
“It was unfortunate circumstances why I got in the team, but that happens in sport, and it’s how you deal with it as a player.
“The other lads have been fantastic. The team has done incredibly well. The formation has worked really well home and away. We’ve got the right work ethic. Everyone’s bought into the manager’s ideas.
“Also, the squad has been together bar one or two new signings for the best part of two and a half years now. A lot of the players know each other quite well.
“When you go on to the pitch you know what you want to do and you know your team-mates. It’s quite important.”
Hayden, preparing for tomorrow’s home game against 10th-placed Everton, found his opportunities limited in the second half of last season by the form of Shelvey and Diame.
“I think I played quite a bit in the first half of last season,” said the former England Under-21 international.
“The second half, obviously, I didn’t start as many games as I wanted to. That wasn’t down to me – it was down to the players who were doing really well.
“You couldn’t have faulted Jonjo and Mo in the middle of the pitch from Stoke onwards. From that moment, when they’re playing that well, you couldn’t be aggrieved.
“I had a few substitute’s appearances. You still feel part of it.
“It’s just about being professional, and when you get a chance, you have to show as much as you can, and when you don’t play, you have to support the players that are playing and push them as hard as you can in training.”
Shelvey, Diame and Ki are competing to replace Longstaff in Benitez’s starting XI for the Everton game at St James’s Park, where Newcastle are on a four-game winning run in the league.
Hayden also knows that he could lose his place if he loses his focus.
“We’ve got tough games left, and there’ll be opportunities for players to play,” said Hayden.
“Every single game is an opportunity for players to show what they can do.
“I think the players that are playing at the minute are never guaranteed to play. You have to take every single game, minute, touch and pass to show what you can do.
“That’s the attitude I have and it’s an attitude I’ve never gone from.
“If you rest on your laurels and think ‘I’m in the team and I’m playing and doing this and that’, you can get over-confident.
“That’s not how I play. You play on the edge and you play with pressure. I try to do my best.”
Hayden, signed from Arsenal in the summer of 2016, asked to leave United last summer, when Brighton and Hove Albion were interested in him, for family reasons.
However, Rafa Benitez blocked the request. Newcastle’s manager also told Hayden that he had to stay in January’s transfer window.
For now, the Chelmsford-born player is focused on helping 14th-placed United climb the Premier League table.
“January was January,” said Hayden, who has made 86 career appearances and scored four goals for the club.
“Whatever happened, happened. It didn’t affect me on the pitch.
“Once you cross the white line, and have the jersey on, I’m trying to do my best for the club.
“It’s up to everybody now – everyone in the squad – to do their jobs and get Newcastle as high as they can in the league.”