STAGS’ GOLDEN GOALS: Wayne Corden starts a promotion party

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It is something that football fans of all clubs argue about. What is the best, most memorable or favourite goal scored by your heroes?

Each week we will take a look at some of the best to hit the net for the Stags over the past decades. If you have a goal you would like us to feature, email sport@chad.co.uk with brief details and your memories of the strike and we will try to include in a future article — already we have had requests to revist a Liam Lawrence winner at Chesterfield and Matt Green’s winner at Hereford in the Conference promotion-winning season.

This week we look back to another promotion season in 2001-02. Our featured goal was a real cracker, a trademark stunning drive that made wing wizard Wayne Corden a hero on the terraces... and one that, to some extent, justified my decision to miss a family wedding in favour of going to watch a Stags match.

But this was not just any Mansfield Town match. This was Saturday, 20th April, 2002, the end of the season and a match against Carlisle United in Nationwide League Division Three that would give the Stags the opportunity to gain promotion for the first time in 10 years.

It was the chance to end a terrific season in style and I, along with more than 8,500 other fans, had to be at Field Mill that afternoon, rather than at a wedding.

The 2001-02 season had been one to remember, full of attacking football, glorious goals and, as is always the case with the Stags, plenty of biting of finger nails.

Mansfield Town were promotion favourites by the time manager Billy Dearden was surprisingly tempted away from the club to join local rivals Notts County in January, just after the club’s memorable trip to Filbert Street to give top-tier Leicester City a scare in the FA Cup.

Corden played his part in a memorable performance that day, too. The livewire winger had England keeper Ian Walker fumbling a first-half shot as the Stags looked the better team against the likes of Muzzy Isset, Robbie Savage and Dennis Wise.

Then Corden crossed for Chris Greenacre to make it 1-1 during that first period full of optimism for the travelling Stags fans — a goal that led to me splitting open my shin on the seat in front of me after jumping too quickly to celebrate the goal.

The winger’s play drew praise from national media that day and rightly so, even though the Stags lost 2-1 to a second half strike, but went so close to forcing a replay when Allen Tankard headed wide in a frantic finish to injury time.

But back to Corden. The winger retained his place as Dearden’s assistant, Stuart Watkiss, was promoted to the top job and maintained the momentum towards promotion, riding the typical Stags wave of highs and lows through the end of winter and into spring.

Despite losing the influential Craig Disley and Liam Lawrence to injuries, Watkiss cleverly used the loan market to dramatic effect, bringing in Adam Murray — remember him — David Kelly and Scott Sellars. Murray scored seven goals in 12 games.

Corden chipped in with the odd goal too — he hit nine in total that season, including one in a never-to-be-forgotten 4-1 Tuesday night win at Lincoln in February 2002.

The Stags stayed in the promotion places until a 4-1 Easter home defeat by Rushden was followed by an eventful 5-3 loss at Luton. It looked as though they might have blown their hopes of promotion, but then successive victories over Bristol Rovers and promotion rivals Cheltenham Town put the Stags back in charge of their own destiny.

That Mansfield rollercoaster kicked in again when a defeat at York left promotion hopes on a knife-edge. Cheltenham, who had a game in hand, were now favourites to go up. Remarkably they only drew that extra game, meaning the Stags could win the elusive promotion on the last day of the season if they defeated Carlisle and Cheltenham lost at champions Plymouth.

The Stags fans — and young manager Watkiss — had no need to worry.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man... or, more correctly, cometh Wayne Corden.

In the days leading up to the crunch match, Watkiss insisted the winger — particularly excellent in the first part of the season — could rediscover his form and be the matchwinner. The rookie manager was spot on.

Corden scored 38 goals in his 198 games during his four years at Field Mill. Arguably, none were more vital than his strike on 20th April 2002.

After just five minutes of what was supposed to be a nervy afternoon, Corden struck his memorable goal.

Nostalgia: Mansfield Town defeat Carlisle United to seal promotion

The wingman took a short corner to Murray, he chipped to Greenacre and the ball was laid off for Corden to smash home a 12-yard volley off the underside of the bar.

The well-worked routine sparked delirium among the home fans and is a moment I will never forget. What a goal! What a time to score it!

Moments later news came through that Plymouth had taken the lead against Cheltenham and the champagne was on ice.

Before half-time the score in both matches was 2-0 as Corden’s corner was eventually turned in by Andy White. The party could begin and the Stags were promoted for the first time in 10 years, thanks largely to Corden’s thrilling volley on a thrilling afternoon.