Remember Stewart Hadley, the big, raw, bustling centre-forward that former Stags boss Andy King signed from Derby County?
Well, Hadley is the player at the heart of our blast from the past this week as we look back to his spectacular Mansfield Town debut exactly 21 years ago today, on Saturday, February 12 1994.
King, who was in his first season in charge at Field Mill, had been insisting that his struggling Third Division side would improve once they were able to find a powerful, but mobile, target-man.
And he seemed to be proved right as the 20-year-old, snapped up from Derby County’s reserve-team for a nominal fee, scored one goal and created another to inspire a shock 3-0 victory at home to high-flying Wycombe Wanderers.
Wycombe were sitting second in the table after only five defeats in the opening six months of the campaign, but they were soon unsettled by Hadley’s man-of-the-match performance.
“He added a whole new dimension to the Stags side as they put together easily their most polished performance of the season,” wrote Chad’s match reporter John Lomas. “Hadley’s presence also lifted the burden off the shoulders of fellow striker Steve Wilkinson, who responded with one of his liveliest games.”
Mansfield, whose line-up also included the likes of Aidy Boothroyd, Steve Parkin, Kevin Gray, Paul Holland and Chris Timons, opened the scoring in 27th minute. Full-back Boothroyd whipped the ball in for Wayne Fairclough to steer home a shot just inside the post.
With Steve Guppy on the wing and Simon Garner a threat up front, Wycombe responded with chances of their own. But on the hour came Hadley’s big moment as he doubled Stags’ lead with a debut goal. Jason Rees rolled the ball down the line for Wilkinson, who turned his man and crossed low for the Dudley-born new boy to tap home from close range.
Eight minutes later, Hadley was causing more problems as he intercepted a pass down the right, shrugged off a challenge and drilled the ball square for Wilkinson, who arrived at the far post to thunder a shot high into the net.
Our man Lomas said “the result and display lifted some of the Field Mill gloom” that was envelping the club at the time. It moved them to 14th in the Division Three table and helped to trigger improvement that led to the Stags finishing the season in 12th and reaching the promotion play-offs the following year.
Wycombe went on to miss out on automatic promotion, ending the campaign in fourth spot, just behind champions Shrewsbury Town, runners-up Chester City and also Crewe Alexandra. But they still went up via the play-offs, beating Preston North End 4-2 in front of more than 40,000 fans in the final at Wembley.
As for Hadley, who is now 42, he spent four more years at Field Mill, making 124 appearances and scoring 31 goals. He left the club in 1998 to join Kidderminster Harriers, where he played 43 times before drifting into the non-league game, primarily with Worcester City.
STAGS LINE-UP -- Ward/ Fleming (Noteman 49), Boothroyd, Holland, Gray, Fairclough, Timons, Parkin, Wilkinson, Hadley (Wilson 87), Rees. SUB NOT USED: Pearcey.
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