THE Steve Bruce era might still be at a relatively formative stage, but Isaac Hayden claims Newcastle United are starting to develop a distinct new identity that will help drive them forward over the remainder of the season.

The Magpies head to Sheffield United tomorrow night looking to build on Saturday’s impressive showing against Manchester City and force themselves into the top half of the table for the first time this season.

Their weekend display against the reigning champions garnered deserved praise, with Newcastle’s players displaying impressive levels of organisation, commitment and effort as they restricted City to a handful of goalscoring opportunities.

In many ways, that is a continuation of the approach that proved so successful under Rafael Benitez in the last couple of seasons, but the addition of Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin has led to a series of subtle changes in the way Newcastle attack.

When everything goes to plan, they are able to offer a considerable threat on the counter-attack, as evidenced by their rip-roaring display in last month’s 3-2 win at West Ham United, and while it will inevitably take time for new faces and philosophies to bed in, Hayden feels a new approach is beginning to emerge.

“I think an identity is starting to form now, and I think the crowd are responding to what we’re trying to do,” said Hayden, who is expected to retain his place in the starting side alongside fellow midfielder Jonjo Shelvey at Bramall Lane. “Every club wants to have an identity, but it’s not always easy.

“The difficulty, especially at this club, is that when you lose key players, it’s difficult to get the continuity. You’re replacing those players with young, unproven players, and it’s difficult. Jo and Allan, it’s their first season in English football and that’s hard.

“They’ve got a lot of pressure on their shoulders, but people have to understand they’re not (Salomon) Rondon, who has played in the league for years, or (Ayoze) Perez, who has got massive amounts of experience too. You have to be a bit patient with them, but you can see they’re trying and they’re willing and that’s the most important thing.”

As well as trying to integrate new signings into his team, Bruce has also had to cope with a series of enforced defensive reshuffles in the first four months of the season.

Jamaal Lascelles will be sidelined until the new year after injuring his knee, while both Fabian Schar and Florian Lejeune are only just returning after lengthy lay-offs of their own.

In their absence, Newcastle’s supposed fringe performers have excelled, with Federico Fernandez emerging as a key defensive figure after returning to the side at the of October and both Ciaran Clark and Paul Dummett performing impressively despite previously being axed from the starting side.

“It’s a credit to the players that haven’t played as much,” said Hayden. “You look at players like Ciaran and Federico, and even going back to last season, they weren’t playing as much.

“But it just shows the levels of professionalism they’ve got. Even this season, there was a spell when they weren’t playing, so to be able to come in and perform at the level required when you haven’t been involved for so long is very difficult. To be able to do that is a credit to their professionalism.”

Javier Manquillo is another player to have come in from the cold successfully, with the Spaniard having ended a seven-game absence when he started against City at the weekend.

With DeAndre Yedlin sidelined through injury, Manquillo got the nod ahead of summer signing Emil Krafth and justified Bruce’s faith in his ability as he performed creditably despite being up against the dangerous Raheem Sterling.

Yedlin is hoping to be available to return against Sheffield United tomorrow, but it would be harsh to drop Manquillo given the quality of his weekend display. With his current contract due to expire at the end of the season, Manquillo’s performance will also have improved his chances of securing a new deal.

“He was terrific – fair play to him,” said Bruce. “He’s found himself, in the last few weeks, not involved. But I thought, against Raheem Sterling, his pace, his attitude and defensive work was probably right.

“It was a big call because Emil is chomping at the bit. But I just think Manquillo’s experience certainly showed.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle are pondering whether to make a move for £1m-rated Carlisle United centre-half Jarrad Branthwaite.

The 17-year-old defender is interesting Celtic and Rangers, but Newcastle are understood to have negotiated an agreement that gives them first refusal over the youngster as part of the loan deal that took striker Elias Sorensen to Brunton Park.