IT was the dawn of a new era for Doncaster Rovers in Saturday’s game against visiting Crystal Palace.
Gone were manager Sean O’Driscoll and his No 2 Richard O’Kelly after five years during which time they’d steered Rovers to both Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success and the second tier of English football for the first time in over 50 years.
It was the prospect of the club losing its Championship status after three years which prompted the directors to wield the axe on Thursday night after the side had picked up just one point in their first seven games.
In came Dean Saunders - a man with a proven track record as a top-flight striker and a seasoned international player - but untried in management at this level.
It was a gamble which could easily have back-fired on the club, who needed to record their first league win since March to avoid equalling their worst run of games without a win, but at the final whistle it was smiles all round.
The former Wrexham boss might not have the experience of Football League management that O’Driscoll, who has totalled up over 500 games during his time in charge at Bournemouth and Doncaster.
But he brought a change of stoke of good luck to the role - something which has been in short supply in recent months - and the lack of which contributed to the departure of O’Driscoll and O’Kelly.
It would be easy to consign the achievements of both men to the dustbin of history, but their record will serve as a benchmark for Saunders and those who follow him for many years to come.
Many fans will mourn the departure of the two men but there is little time for sentiment in football and the game moves on regardless.
Whatever their feelings on the changes at the top, Saunders seems to have won the players over in the two days he had to work with them.
He also made a good impression with the media - not always O’Driscoll’s strong point - and sent the Rovers’ fans home happy and was entitled to feel pleased with how things have gone since his shock appointment.
Chairman John Ryan also had a big smile on face and seemed relaxed after what must have been a difficult week for him having had to sack O’Driscoll, the longest serving manager in the Championship.
“I think he (O’Driscoll) was a bit shocked when I told him,” he said, “But it’s a results business and he’ll soon get another job because he’s a great manager and I would recommend him to anyone.
“Maybe you can stay (at a club too long) and maybe your voice gets (to sound) the same when you’ve been at a club for five or six years.
“I just thought that something had to change because we hadn’t won for 19 games. So just to get a win (today) is a major, major thing for us.”
Ryan praised Saunders achievement at Wrexham, adding: “Dean was a top-class player, of course, with the likes of Liverpool and Aston Villa, and the reality is that he’s got his chance now to test himself in the Championship which is one of the biggest league’s in the world.
“He’s a different character to Sean. He has great enthusiasm and he really has lifted the whole place.
“We were a bit more direct but to be honest I think the big difference was that we had a slice of luck, which we’ve not had all season, when John Oster, who hardly ever scores, scored with a major deflection.
“The overall commitment was just staggering. They worked their hearts out today. I think Billy Sharp coming on changed things; he’s like a long-lost hero coming on and we scored a goal when he came on.
“All the players grew 10 per cent (in confidence) because he makes such a difference and it was great to see him out there again. Just his very presence makes all the difference.”
The first half of the game won’t last long in the memory of many.
Rovers looked edgy, perhaps not surprising in the circumstances, and showed a lack of ideas on how to break down a well-organised defence.
Rovers had loan striker Jon Parkin on debut but his new team-mates, not used to playing with a big target man, didn’t seem to know how to get the best out of him and there were too many hopeful long balls.
Palace looked the better side in possession but between keeper Neil Sullivan, and the back-four, Rovers managed to nullify the threat posed by strikers Glenn Murray and Sean Scannell and pacy wide man Wilfried Zaha, who got little change out of skipper George Friend - switched to left-back for the first time this season following the injury to Tommy Spurr at Reading last week. Palace were unlucky not to be awarded an early penalty when Glenn Murray went down in the box.
Said Friend: “It’s been frustrating so it has been really pleasing to win today, It’s not as though we’ve just been working hard today; we’ve been doing it right from pre-season to now and it’s a good feeling to pick up the three points.
“We’d only had two days working with the new manager but he seems very enthusiastic and positive. It’s a good start for him and it’s a good start to our season with our new manager.”
Commenting on the team’s first half display, Friend: “You’ve got to give Palace a bit of credit. They probably made it hard for us. Obviously we’ve just signed big John (on loan) and we were trying to use him as well.
“Perhaps after we’d knocked it long a few times we could have got it down earlier and I think that is what the gaffer wanted us to do.
“We definitely had more possession of the ball (in the second half) and luckily we hurt them.”
The only goal of the game came on 65 minutes when a 25-yard shot by John Oster took a deflection off a defender and wrong-footed Palace keeper Julian Speroni.
With substitute Milan Lalkovic showing up well as did Billy Sharp, Rovers continued to take the game to Palace only for James Hayter to shoot over a few chances.