All change: Paul Goodwin’s verdict on Doncaster Rovers’ managerial switch

Rovers' new manager Dean Saunders applaudes the home fans at his first game. Picture: Andrew Roe
Rovers' new manager Dean Saunders applaudes the home fans at his first game. Picture: Andrew Roe

THE smoke drifting across Cantley Park training ground last Friday could hardly have been more symbolic.

It was coming from a nearby garden, but as Doncaster Rovers hastily unveiled their new manager there was apparently no smoke without fire.

When John Ryan sacked one of the most successful managers in Rovers’ history - just days after giving Sean O’Driscoll a typically high-profile vote of confidence - there was almost an instant assumption that Ryan and O’Driscoll had fallen out overnight.

Something must have sparked the frenzy that began late last Thursday night.

There was also a belief that Ryan had been forced into a decision he didn’t really want to make.

But neither of those assumptions, I believe, are completely true.

In fact the writing had been on the wall for O’Driscoll for some time.

Ultimately a manager who always played down results, instead prioritising performance, paid the price for a run of just three wins in his last 32 league games in charge of Doncaster.

As personalities, Ryan and O’Driscoll are like chalk and cheese.

But they formed a somewhat unlikely bond to guide Doncaster back to the second tier of English football for the first time in 50 years.

But whereas O’Driscoll talked about ‘identity’ as his main concern, Ryan is a results man, a perfectionist.

And those different priorities were always liable to lead to fireworks.

Last week the conflagration happened - and Dean Saunders was the man to rise from the ashes.

Ryan and his board have not pumped millions of pounds into the club to sit back and watch their side drop out of the Championship as soon as the going got tough.

So they decided to take action - before it was too late.

Under O’Driscoll the club had a clear long-term objective to develop young players and play in a distinct style, even if it meant dropping a division to do that.

But the latter was something the board was simply not willing to entertain - and patience had been running thin behind the scenes for some time.

Ryan was said to be baffled when he found out Richard Naylor was not injured at the Cardiff City Stadium earlier this month, when O’Driscoll uncharacteristically gambled by bringing on Milan Lalkovic.

The chairman was also well aware that the mood among the players was at an all-time low since O’Driscoll arrived at the club in 2006.

Ryan desperately wanted Sean to succeed.

O’Driscoll was a man that embodied everything he wanted his club to stand for.

But a slow start to the new campaign, combined with the disastrous end to last season, ultimately forced his hand.

The bond between Ryan and O’Driscoll had finally been broken - and as I wrote in this very column last week, Sean O’Driscoll had indeed become a victim of his own success.

So, in the blink of an eye, Dean Saunders arrived at Doncaster and was immediately on the charm offensive when introduced to a shell-shocked media last Friday.

He was quick to praise the job O’Driscoll had done, and promised that the footballing principles that have evolved at Rovers won’t be discarded.

But the former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker won’t compromise when it comes to winning.

Yes, he wants his team to pass it and entertain.

But more than anything else he wants his team to win - sentiments which mark a seismic shift in the way people are now thinking at Doncaster Rovers.

And the Saunders-effect did not take long to work.

Rovers were dreadful during the first half against Palace on Saturday, hardly surprising given the incredible events of the previous 48 hours.

But with Deano’s words of wisdom ringing in their ears - a no fear, no nonsense, shoot-on-sight approach - Rovers got their first bit of luck for months when John Oster’s shot wickedly deflected past Julian Speroni to earn Doncaster the points.

The strange atmosphere before kick-off had been replaced by an even stranger feeling - that winning feeling.

Whether the board have made the right decision in sacking O’Driscoll and hiring Saunders, only time will tell.

Some might say Ryan is playing with fire.

But Saunders’ burning desire to win - and win ugly if necessary - is exactly what Rovers have been lacking over the last few months.

*Read Paul Goodwin’s Verdict every week in the Free Press.