• Adam Stubbings

Ecstasy in Gold: Coppinger Magic Rescues Rovers

“He’s only gone and done it!”

Those were the words – in amongst the screaming – that iFollow co-commentator Danny Amos used to describe James Coppinger’s fateful equaliser against Hull yesterday, and all he was missing was the word “again”. The 40-year-old midfielder has been responsible for many incredible moments in Doncaster Rovers history but the free kick which sealed a potentially season-altering draw against the Tigers may just be the most poignant.

It followed a remarkable game in which the team’s defensive frailties came to the fore again, before a spirited second half display sparked a comeback to stop the rot that was threatening to set in amongst Darren Moore’s squad. Here is our breakdown of the good and the bad – in amongst the ugly – from Saturday’s 3-3 deadlock.

Copps Has His Day

Southend, Brentford, Morecambe…now add Hull. James Coppinger added another chapter to his legend when he stepped up to curl in a 102nd minute free kick and earn a draw that seemed improbable at half time. The background to the goal is a story in itself, and when you add some historical subtext from the opposition and their manager it all wraps up into something of a Hollywood fairytale – far from the first to feature Copps in Rovers colours, and hopefully not the last.

Those colours were gold and white on the day as the team wore their latest one-off charity kit in support of mental health charity CALM, with the design for this season’s effort thought up by Coppinger himself alongside his sons and featuring elements which commemorate his legendary 17-year career with the team. That he got to play in it was touch-and-go in itself, as this was Copps’ first appearance since December due to injury, and he was only introduced as an 86th minute substitute as Darren Moore looked to earn a late point.

Coppinger curled a delightful set piece over the Hull wall and into the goal some 16 minutes later – after a lengthy injury delay for a blow to George Honeyman – before wheeling away to be mobbed by his team mates. What it meant to him and the team was obvious, and doubtless there were thousands of joyful cries from absent Rovers fans across the country as 5 o’clock rolled around, especially as the goal struck a blow to Hull boss Grant McCann, the man who took the captaincy from Coppinger when he arrived as Rovers manager in 2018.

In the lead-up to the game, Coppinger cut a frustrated figure in an interview discussing his final season as a player and how he still feels able to play full games and contribute to the level he has for all these years. As much as that goal was a strike to McCann, might Copps have enjoyed the impression it might make on his current manager? If Darren Moore can utilise the veteran to his best ability and help Rovers over the line, it would go a long way to underlining the remarkable legacy our #26 has built since his arrival all those years ago.

Horror Show Repeats

As great as the ending was, proceedings began in disappointing fashion once again for Rovers, who have really lost their way in the last few games. Yet again they found themselves trailing and had conceded three soft goals before half time, with Hull enjoying a field day in the penalty area to notch three goals – two from former Rovers winger Mallik Wilks – taking the tally to seven goals conceded in a week from aerial situations.

Despite the return of towering captain Tom Anderson, the back-line looked all at sea again and could not maintain any cohesion when defending crosses into the danger area. The strength of performance and results for much of this season has been built on the foundation of solidity brought by the defenders yet in four straight games now they have been undone by frailty and basic errors. Discipline went out the window and if not for the intervention of Anderson and Wright on a couple of occasions, Hull would have been out of sight by half time rendering any potential comeback impossible.

Goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe also had a tough afternoon, failing to command his own box which exacerbated the issues at play in the first half, and in the second his errant kicking nearly gifted Hull a fourth goal – kicking in particular has been a major issue for the Brentford loanee since his arrival and it appears his confidence may have been knocked by recent mishaps. He is clearly a talented young player but that talent needs honing to cut out the errors and highlight the many positives that his game possesses.

New Boys Finding Their Feet

Fortunately, the team looked refreshed after the interval and were much better at controlling the ball, maintaining defensive composure and taking advantage of the space left by a Hull side who retreated into their own half to defend their lead. Key to this were the efforts of two new players, namely John Bostock and Omar Bogle, who probably had more influence over Rovers’ comeback than any other individual players in the team.

Striker Bogle scored a well struck penalty to open his account for the club and his general play was encouraging throughout the game, as he held the ball well and worked hard to find space in tight areas frequently around the penalty area. He was aided by the movement of winger Josh Sims and Taylor Richards in the midfield slot behind him, but even with limited overall service he had an impact on the game and also won the free kick from which Coppinger bagged the equaliser.

Bostock meanwhile is looking sharper with each game he plays, and took on the anchor role with aplomb after coming on as a half time substitute in place of the ineffectual Madger Gomes. Bostock made the extra room in midfield count, taking the ball out of the back-line and transitioning it into attacking areas in much the same way that Ben Whiteman used to do so well for Darren Moore’s team. His technical ability in close quarters is impeccable and as he builds his understanding of Rovers’ tactical style, he will only become a bigger part of the team’s efforts.

The manner of the ending meant that this draw felt like a win, but the fact is that Rovers are now on a four-game winless run and have serious concerns over their defensive capability. Whilst those issues need to be stamped out quickly with more games around the corner, the effort put forth to claw back from two goals down against Hull should help the entire squad to derive some belief and find the tools to return to their previous high standards.