Man for all seasons Isaac Hayden has proved a godsend to Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce after plugging gaps all over his team.
Midfielder Hayden’s versatility has proved a boon this season, with Bruce repeatedly having had to ask him to play out of position during a season blighted by injuries to key players.
The 25-year-old former Arsenal trainee, who played under Bruce on loan at Hull during the 2015-16 campaign, came close to leaving the club after his daughter Adriana was born with complications meaning gruelling trips to and from London, but stayed and has become an integral part of the team.
Already this season he has played in his accustomed role as a deep-sitting holding midfielder, at right-back, and – as he did against Southampton last weekend – as a central defender, and Bruce has been immensely grateful for his adaptability.
He said: “He’s been very valuable because of his versatility, of course, and that helps enormously.
“Stan Ternent, my old chief scout, who watched Isaac as a boy when he was at Arsenal, always said his best position, he thought, was at centre-back.
“Certainly when you see him perform the way he did and the way he has done numerous times at centre-back, then it does give you food for thought. He’s also played right-back, which he does very, very well too.
“Look, a manager needs one or two of them because of the problems he can have either during a game or when you’re struck down a bit like we have been.”
Hayden proved particularly resilient in central defence as an injury-hit Newcastle side battled their way to a 3-2 victory over the Saints, having been reduced to 10 men by Jeff Hendrick’s 50th-minute dismissal and then nine by Fabian Schar’s exit on a stretcher with all three substitutions having been made.
Things will not be much easier on Monday evening when they return to action at Chelsea, with Schar, full-back Javier Manquillo and leading scorer Callum Wilson all starting long hauls back to fitness.
Bruce will go head-to-head with new Blues boss Thomas Tuchel for the first time bemoaning the departure of predecessor Frank Lampard, but knowing exactly what to expect.
He said: “That, unfortunately, is the nature of the business and a new manager has come in with a world-class reputation.
“Whoever you’re up against as a coach, you know that they’ve got good players, Chelsea right across the board, so it’s a big, tough, tough week ahead.”