Darren Kelly’s bow in the FC Halifax Town dugout was the true stuff of nightmares as Cheltenham Town cruised to a 7-1 victory.
That this humiliation came on home soil and in front of the club’s second highest crowd of the season simply rubbed salt into a wound that is going to take some healing in the coming weeks.
The defeat, Halifax’s ninth in 14 games, left the Yorkshire club second bottom of the National League and in grave danger of suffering a first relegation since reforming in 2008.
If that fate is to be avoided, time is of the essence even though October less than a week old. The Shaymen may be just four points adrift of safety but with there being a further six- point gap between Boreham Wood in 20th place and sixth bottom Altrincham, the fear is that Kelly’s men could soon be cut adrift in a group of five clubs all battling to avoid finishing in one of the four relegation spots.
Tonight, therefore, has a potentially huge significance as Halifax head to Altrincham with their new manager ready to lay down the law to his players.
“I want to wake this place up,” said the 36-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “For me, if the players don’t produce then they will be left behind.
“They will not be part of what we are trying to do. This is a ruthless business, as I found out at Oldham (where Kelly was sacked last month after just nine games).
“This is a great football club, the supporters pay a lot of money to go through the gates and they deserve the team giving its absolute all.
“If the players can’t do that, they won’t be part of it. I want to create something here so if the players are slacking and not doing things, they will be left behind. Simple as that.”
Kelly beat a host of applicants to succeed Neil Aspin at The Shay, a second interview a week yesterday proving the clinching factor for the board.
Changes have already been made, with the part-time squad now training on three nights per week rather than two.
That number may be increased further in the future, with the former York City defender keen to introduce a Friday session to work on team shape.
The aim is to bring what Kelly, who is assisted in his new role by former Morecambe manager Jim Harvey, considers to be a more professional approach to the club.
“I am very hands-on,” he said. “I am a bit OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) if you like in how I want to do things.
“I want everything to a professional standard and for things to be done at a high tempo.
“Look at the facilities here and this is a Football League set-up. I need to change the players’ mentality to match that and I want to change the work ethic. We have to work harder.”
Kelly, who has been based in York since playing for the Minstermen, decided at an early age that coaching was for him.
At the age of just 19, the Derry-born Irishman took his first coaching badge – the UEFA B-licence.
Two summers ago, he earned the UEFA Pro-Licence while Kelly is also qualified in sports therapy.
Those lessons learned will now, it seems, be tested to the full by the challenge of getting Halifax out of relegation trouble.
Not that he will be content to do just that.
“I detest negativity,” stressed Kelly. “I don‘t want the thinking to be, ‘We are second bottom – if we can just stay up’. We must aim higher.
“I want supporters to be thinking about play-offs and promotion.
“Psychologically, being where we are (in the league) can be a negative thing. But it is what it is. If we get one win, it can create two or three.”
Kelly’s tenure at Halifax began less than a month after his time at Oldham had come to an end.
The former Sunderland Academy coach lasted just three months but he did take charge of the Latics in a friendly at The Shay in July.
Town were poor that night, especially in the first half, as Oldham ran out 2-1 winners. Considering what path his career has taken since, that friendly was timely as, together with last month’s 2-2 draw at home to Southport, it was Kelly’s only glimpse in the flesh of Halifax before last Saturday’s bow in the home dugout.
“I’ll be honest, watching Halifax in that friendly during the first half there was nothing much that stood out for me,” said Kelly, who left team selection for the Cheltenham fixture to youth team coach Steve Nichol but was otherwise fully involved.
“Clearly, there are areas that need working on.
“I told the players before Saturday it was a clean slate and they would be in the team if it was deserved. It is up to them, as this is a club that should not be where it is.”