Hull City have the big-game operators for play-offs, says Isaac Hayden
Steve Bruce’s side have lost both meetings with the Rams this term – 2-0 at the KC and 4-0 in the return on April 5 – but Hayden, on a season-long loan from Arsenal, is adamant that this league double will have no sway if the two clubs do go head-to-head next month for a place in the Wembley final.
“This squad is very strong,” said the 21-year-old following his fifth league start of 2016 in Tuesday night’s 2-0 home win over Brentford.
“The main thing for us is that the play-offs are a clean slate. Derby have beaten us twice but this will be a different level of pressure.
“We have big- game players in that squad. Players who have played in the Champions League, players who have played international football – and at a very highest Premier League level.
“We will take it in our stride and use that experience and quality. We also have a lot of young, hungry players who want to be at the highest level. It is a great mixture of young and experienced talent.”
By beating the Bees, Hull moved to within effectively one win of guaranteeing fourth place and home advantage in the second leg of the semi-final.
It also extended City’s unbeaten run to five games to suggest a corner has been turned since the miserable run of just one win in eight outings killed any hopes of automatic promotion.
“The big thing is to get momentum going into the play-offs,” added the midfielder. “Maybe during a few of those games in March, we did enough to win two or three times over.
“But little things didn’t fall for us and we weren’t clinical enough. We just went through a sticky patch at the wrong time. That cost us automatic.
“We forget about that now and press on towards the play-offs, building up as much momentum as we can in those two final games of the season at Bolton and against Rotherham.
“The main thing for us is doing the basics right once the play-offs start. Sometimes, we have come away from that and not matched the other team in terms of workrate or battling qualities.
“If we do that, first and foremost, then our quality will come through. I don’t think many clubs have the squad we have.”
Hayden has made 23 appearances for Hull this term, 10 of which have come from the bench. He has netted once, in the 6-0 drubbing of Charlton Athletic in January.
As is to be expected, the Chelmsford-born loanee had hoped to feature more but with David Meyler a big doubt for the play-offs with a hamstring injury there may well be a chance to make a big impact at the business end of the season.
Bruce is well aware of that possibility, hence why Hayden and a couple of other players without much time on the field lately were handed a start against Brentford.
Hayden’s hope is that he can return to the Emirates this summer with a play-off winners’ medal in his grasp.
Whether that proves to be the case, only time will tell but the level-headed midfielder is adamant that his time in Yorkshire has provided a vital learning experience in his development.
“I have enjoyed my time in Hull and learned a lot,” added Hayden. “It has more been a massive learning curve.
“Last season, I didn’t really kick a ball. I was out for eight months with an injury so to come into this season I wasn’t putting too much pressure on myself.
“It was more to see how many minutes I could get. I have played in some very interesting games, such as the Capital One Cup.
“The manager, the staff and the players have all been a massive help. The players in my position have really helped me.
“Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, David Meyler – every one of them is a top player. It doesn’t really get much better than that in terms of a Championship central midfield.
“For me to learn from them – either watching or playing alongside them – has been fantastic. I couldn’t have wished to come to join a better midfield trio than that. It has been massive for me.
“Even the little things help. Tom’s passing array is fantastic, as is Jake’s drive. He tackles with everything. David’s leadership qualities also stand out, while he never seems to run out of steam.
“He runs all day long. There are bits of quality I can pick up from each one. If I can add that to my game then, hopefully, I can become a very good all-round midfielder.”
As for the play-offs and any potential involvement, Hayden added: “I would love to play my part.
“I don’t know David’s situation but I am sure he will be fighting to get fit for those play-offs. All I can do in training or any game-time I get is give 100 per cent.”