Martin Hayes was at the vanguard of Arsenal's return to form in the late 1980s.
He rose through the Club's youth ranks and made his debut in November 1985 when Graham Rix was dropped for a game against Oxford United. He did well too, laying on a goal for Tony Woodcock, but it wasn't until the 1986/87 campaign that Hayes nailed down a first-team place.
|Arsenal Career||1981 - 1990|
|Appearances||132 (92 starts, 40 as a sub)|
And what a season it was for him. A quick, strong and skilful forward who could also operate on the left, Hayes was too hot for many defences to handle. He scored outstanding solo goals against Charlton and Leicester and helped Arsenal reach top spot at Christmas.
They didn't sustain that title challenge but Hayes finished the campaign with 24 goals, supplementing his tally with 12 penalties after proving himself a master from the spot. And of course Hayes also earned a League Cup winner's medal as Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley. An England Under-21 call-up capped a truly impressive breakthrough year.
Having helped bring the good times back to Highbury, Hayes was expected to go from strength to strength. Instead, his form dipped and his self-belief seemed to take a hit too. The 1988 League Cup Final seemed to sum up his Arsenal career - popping up to score a vital goal before hitting the post from a yard out as Luton fought back to shock the holders.
By Graham's first title season, Hayes was a regular on the bench but not a regular on the pitch. He did come on to score a crucial goal in the title run-in - the winner against Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park - but was generally kept out of the side by Brian Marwood and Paul Merson.
By the summer of 1990 it was clear that Hayes' future lay elsewhere but Graham was reluctant to sell him to a top-flight rival. Hayes joined Celtic instead but it didn't work out and, after a loan spell at Wimbledon, he saw out his playing days with Swansea City.
WHAT THE FANS SAID:
I adored Martin as a player and could never understand why he couldn't seem to believe in himself more. I recall him once taking the ball from his own half, beating the entire Leicester defence single-handed and scoring the most wonderful goal, and then, as we all went wild, looking up with a face that said, "Now I've got to walk all the way back to the halfway line again".
Tony Attwood, Corby