Ayoze Perez says the Championship has toughened him up.
The forward has scored six goals for league leaders Newcastle United so far this season.
And Perez – who met schoolchildren from St Stephen’s RC Primary School in Longbenton yesterday at the launch of the Tesco Bank Junior Players programme – admits it was a challenge to adapt to the pace, intensity and physicality of the division.
The 23-year-old helped Newcastle beat Leeds United 2-0 last weekend, taking the Magpies five points clear at the top of the league.
Perez hopes to start against Blackburn Rovers at St James’s Park tomorrow.
Asked about his Championship learning curve, he said: “It was a big change for me. It was really tough. It’s physically harder, and you have to adapt. It took a few games, but at the minute we are doing really well. We have adapted to the league. We have to keep pushing.
“In this league, you might have to play quicker, smarter. That’s it. You have to change your football, because the league is really tough. You have to be focused on the game.
“Since I came to Newcastle, I’ve always wanted to improve. I always wanted to improve. I’m working on it. It’s important in this league.”
Perez, however, is enjoying life in English football’s bruising second tier.
“It’s quite different in this league,” said Perez, signed from Tenerife in 2014.
“We dominate a little bit. Maybe our squad is a bit better. You normally should dominate some games and attack more.”
“I’m really enjoying the Championship. It’s really tough – harder than the Premier League – but it’s a great experience.
“Hopefully, next year we can say we are a Premier League team.”
United have won their last nine games in all competitions.
Perez said: “The mood cannot be better than it is, but we can’t be too confident. We have to keep pushing and working the same way.
“We are doing really well. It’s important to keep focused. That’s the message every day, every game.
“We have to give 100% and do the right things. We are going to be up there if we want.
“It’s better to focus on the game instead of looking at the table. It could be a mistake from us. We have to be focused on our jobs and make sure we are doing the same things.”
On Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez’s squad rotation, Perez added: “We have a really good squad. We have quality in different positions. You have to wait for your chance, and then take it as well as you can.”
Meanwhile, Tesco Bank Junior Players is a community sports programme which will see 15,000 primary school pupils from the North East take part in football and basketball sessions led by the Newcastle United Foundation, Sunderland’s Foundation of Light and the Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation.
Perez, an ambassador for the Newcastle United Foundation, had a kickabout with pupils from St Stephen’s at the launch at Tesco Bank’s Longbenton base.
He said: “It was really nice to spend some time with the children. It’s a pleasure to be involved with them and spend some time with them.
“It’s a great experience for me. I really like to be involved in these kind of events.”
Tesco Bank managing director Iain Harnett said: “We’re thrilled to expand our community programme into the North East.”