Business leaders and sponsors of Oxford United were surprised by the departure of Kelvin Thomas.

And while they paid tribute to the success Mr Thomas has achieved during his time as chairman of the club, there was an element of uncertainty in some quarters as to what the future holds under Ian Lenagan.

Brendon Cross, a United director under Firoz Kassam,said: “As a fan, it’s disappointing to see Kelvin go. It was a mammoth task and he has made a really good job of it, with the crucial thing being appointing Chris Wilder as manager.”

Mr Cross, founder and managing director of STL Communications in Witney, added: “Kelvin has also had a major impact on the business community and made it very difficult for firms not to get involved with the club.

“Financially he has brought in revenue with sponsorship. The success on the pitch has been balanced by what he has achieved on the commercial side.

“It’s very difficult to make money in a football club but Oxford United don’t lose as much as other clubs. It’s run very sensibly. Ian Lenagan is a successful businessman, clearly a sports fan and very personable. I think he will do a good job.”

The club’s financial figures show the impact Mr Thomas had on the bottom line. He turned around a pre-tax loss of £870,582 in 2008 into a pre-tax profit of £403,119 by 2010. It only slipped back into the red last year by £296,000 due to a one-off bill of £298,000 for stadium charges.

James Woollard, managing director of Witney packaging firm Polythene UK, a club sponsor, said: “Kelvin was really good for the club and was a major reason for becoming a sponsor because we knew we were in capable hands. It’s a massive shame.

“I am keen to meet Ian Lenagan and look forward to developing a good relationship with him.”