Isaac Hayden was Steve Bruce’s only positive against Brentford in Newcastle United’s Carabao Cup loss on Tuesday night as the midfielder shone in defence, despite the 1-0 scoreline.
The 25-year-old earned his 12th appearance of the campaign across all competitions against Thomas Frank’s Bees while partnering Ciaran Clark in the heart of Bruce’s back four, with the Toon short on numbers at centre-half.
Hayden was unable to help the Magpies avoid defeat on a night where they chased their first EFL Cup semi-final since 1976, but he was the only starting member to leave Greater London with any credit in the bank.
Hayden, who Bruce believes has “his best years ahead of him”, should have left the Brentford Community Stadium with his head held high having shone in an unfamiliar role with the second-most touches (67) and total passes (54) by a Newcastle player and with the best pass completion rate (91%) among those who started for the visitors, per WhoScored.
He additionally won possession with two successful tackles, he made four clearances, three interceptions and was never dribbled past, while boasting a team-high 75% aerial duel success after winning three of four contests spread evenly between both ends of the field.
According to SofaScore data, the £9m-rated gem also won all three of his ground duels, never committed a foul, found teammates with six of nine long balls and saw his sole shot of the game blocked, having rarely ventured beyond the half-way line.
Bruce would have preferred to have named Hayden in his natural midfield role at the Brentford Community Stadium, rather than at centre-half, but he was left with no alternative as the Newcastle first-team continue to recover form and fitness following injuries and an outbreak of coronavirus.
“It is what is,” Bruce said, via quotes by The Northern Echo. “I’m never going to flannel it up, but we hope we can get a few back, that would certainly help. It would have helped if I’d had another centre-half, then maybe I could have put Isaac into midfield.”
Among those absent against Brentford was Jamaal Lascelles, after it was confirmed the centre-back and Allan Saint-Maximin are struggling with the long-term effects of the virus.
Neither are expected to be passed fit to face Manchester City on Boxing Day, though Lascelles may return to training this week, making it likely that Hayden will again start in the back-four at the Etihad Stadium.
Bruce will be able to take comfort with naming Hayden at centre-half against Pep Guardiola’s Citizens, having lauded the impact the Arsenal product recently brought to the role against West Bromwich Albion on his return after he too had tested positive.
“I didn’t think I would have him until last Monday, so for him to get out of bed and produce a performance like that was great to see,” Bruce told BBC Radio 5 Live following the 2-1 win.