• Adam Stubbings

The Top 5 Moments of the Decade

Ten years is a long time, especially in football. At Doncaster Rovers, a decade can feel like several because it is rarely a dull experience following the club.

Let’s face it, we haven’t been short on excitement or drama in the last ten years, or indeed in the ten before that, so picking out five moments in our recent history to look back on is simultaneously a very easy and extremely difficult task, since there are so many to choose from.

Two promotions, three relegations, one Play-Off tie, a record-breaking FA Cup run, seven managers and a cacophony of great matches, players and moments. Here we pick out five of those occasions that we think are worth reliving as the absolute pinnacle of a rollercoaster decade in the history of the Rovers.

#5: Rovers go 8th in Championship at Oakwell

Barnsley 0-1 Rovers. March 27th, 2010

At the beginning of the 2010s, Rovers were flying higher than ever. Sean O’Driscoll had crafted a wonderful squad playing exceptional football and were rightly becoming a respected Championship side. The second half of the 2009/10 season was truly the peak of this era, with Billy Sharp’s goals and the flair of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas added to a settled side that grew together into a formidable footballing force.

The pinnacle came late in the season at Oakwell, as Rovers travelled to local rivals Barnsley looking to close on an unprecedented Top 6 finish in the second tier. It was far from a vintage performance by the so-called “Arsenal of the North”, with O’Driscoll having to make do without captain Brian Stock and defender Jason Shackell, meaning a patch-up side featuring James O’Connor at centre half alongside Shelton Martis and a midfield duo of more rudimentary means anchored by Mark Wilson.

Nevertheless, one goal decided the game in the first half and it was courtesy of a man who still dons the hoops today. James Coppinger won it at Oakwell as he has several times with a trademark curler from the edge of the area. Yes, even ten years ago those sweet strikes were practically expected of the wing wizard, and a Barnsley defence including current Rovers boss Darren Moore could only watch on and rue their inability to stop Copps.

At full time, Rovers moved up two places to a nosebleed-inducing 8th in the Championship, six points behind future Premier League Champions Leicester with only six games to play. A fairy-tale run in the Play-Offs never came – that memory is safe in the bank of Blackpool instead – but Rovers did end the season in 12th, our highest finish since the 1950s and likely to be the club’s best position in the pyramid for some time to come.

#4: Andy Butler takes it to Extra Time

Charlton 2-3 Rovers. May 17th, 2019

Butler's magic moment comes at 1:54 in this highlights package from Sky.

From one end of the decade to the other, and a night that will live long in the memories of Rovers fans who were at The Valley for a Play-Off tie that provided the full gamut of emotions from start to finish. Although many may feel the pinnacle was the brief minute or so that Rovers led the tie and looked on course for a return to Wembley after John Marquis’ 100th minute header, it was the goal that sent the game into Extra Time in the first place that truly stands out.

Charlton appeared to be out of sight before many travelling Rovers fans had even made it into the ground due to traffic delays, with Krystian Bielik’s early header putting the Addicks 3-1 ahead on aggregate. Tommy Rowe’s fine strike a few minutes later redressed the balance on the night and what followed was a tight game fought between two sides very much on equal footing, but with time ticking down the team’s efforts seemed in vain.

Then in the 88th minute, a corner was swung in towards the back post by Ali Crawford. Doncaster-born Andy Butler rose with determination to meet it and power a header into the corner of the goal that silenced the sell-out home crowd. He cupped his hands to his ears and shared a wry smile with James Coppinger as the travelling faithful went wild at the other end of the field. As had been the case so many times before, Butler and Rovers had risen to the occasion when it mattered.

It would prove to be Butler’s last significant action in a Doncaster Rovers shirt, as the pendulum of fate swung away from Grant McCann’s brave side and Charlton went through on penalties despite Rovers briefly snatching the aggregate lead in the additional period. Butler was one of many in this squad who departed in the summer, but it was a fine way for a veteran of over 200 games for his hometown club to sign off with his place in history cemented.

He and this squad of such fleeting success made us dare to dream once more, ensuring that the Rovers supporters left London afterwards as proud as can be despite the outcome.

#3: Copps marks 500 games in style

Morecambe 1-5 Rovers. September 10th, 2016

A day by the seaside, sun shining and Rovers in magnificent form. It seldom gets better than this, and on a special day for James Coppinger. The jewel in the crown of this decade and beyond at the club, Copps has turned in too many brilliant displays to count at this point, but his performance at the Globe Arena three years ago is a special one even by his standards.

The club was marking the occasion of his 500th appearance for the club – a remarkable milestone in the modern day game – with a one-off white kit in support of the British Heart Foundation, and it was always going to be about the great man despite him playing down the significance. Named League Two’s Player of the Month the day before the game, Coppinger was clearly in the mood to impress and he got the ball rolling inside five minutes as his cross was eventually turned in by Andy Butler to open the scoring.

By the hour mark, Rovers had a 2-1 lead after John Marquis netted a second and Cole Stockton scored a lovely goal to bring Morecambe back into the game, before Coppinger took matters into his own hands to see the game out of sight. Weaving his way towards goal from the byline, a trademark cut back allowed him to get a shot away that struck the post and came back out for Marquis to tuck home for 3-1, before combining with Marquis again to set away Matty Blair who put the game out of sight following a mazy run through the Shrimps box.

The only thing missing at this point was a goal for Copps himself, and he was not to be denied. Ten minutes from time, he found a pocket of space outside the area and unleashed a cutting drive that arrowed into the bottom corner to put the cherry on top of a simply sensational 500th game in the Rovers shirt, with team mates hoisting Coppinger up onto their shoulders to show their appreciation for an all-time great.

His day was still not complete as Morecambe, clearly at their wit’s end with being torn to shreds by #26, went down to ten men when Alex Whitmore aimed a desperate, frustrated lunge at Coppinger that earned him a red card. The away end serenaded their King for what felt like hours at full time and as the calendar ticks over into 2020, James Coppinger will begin his 17th year as a Doncaster Rovers player. Long may he reign.

#2: For Baby Luey

Rovers 1-3 Middlesbrough. November 1st, 2011

In this career retrospective for Sky Bet, Billy recalls the fateful goal from 2:20.

How can this even be put into words? As Rovers stepped out to take on Coventry in a clash of relegation-threatened sides on Saturday October 29th, 2011, questions were asked over the surprise absence of star striker Billy Sharp. Any notion of it involving a transfer or anything else football-related paled into insignificance when it was confirmed that Sharp and his wife Jade had tragically lost their new-born son Luey to the rare condition gastroschisis.

Bravely, Billy asked manager Dean Saunders to be included in the side for the visit of Middlesbrough just three days later, and after a heartfelt minute’s applause before kick-off, Sharp set about paying tribute to his son in the best way he could. In the 14th minute, El-Hadji Diouf back-flicked the ball up and over the Boro defence and it dropped perfectly for Sharp, who volleyed it with his left foot perfectly over the goalkeeper and into the net to open the scoring.

Wheeling away towards the home fans, Sharp immediately revealed a shirt with the message “That’s for you son” on it, holding his hands to the sky. This incredibly emotional moment gained national attention and underlined the character and meaning to Doncaster Rovers of a man who is among its very best players ever. Even without the tragic circumstances surrounding it, this goal stands as one of the highest quality and is arguably the greatest goal scored in the Keepmoat Stadium since it opened in 2007.

In what was far from a vintage season for Rovers, who were relegated from the Championship after Sharp was sold to Southampton, this moment stands alone as the one worth remembering from the 2011/12 season. There is no better description than that which Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray ascribed to it after the game: “a goal from heaven”.

#1: Coppinger puts it into the empty net…

Brentford 0-1 Rovers. April 27th, 2013

In ten years of remarkable moments in the history of Doncaster Rovers, there was only ever going to be one winner. Following a superb campaign with a hastily-assembled squad after relegation, Rovers travelled to Brentford for a final-day showdown that would guarantee promotion for one of the two sides, with an unlikely but possible shot at the League One title also up for grabs.

Brentford had the best home record in the division but Rovers happened to be the best away from home, racking up 14 victories on their travels to sit 2nd in the table. Knowing that a draw would be enough to seal an immediate return to the Championship, Brian Flynn’s side frustrated the Bees for much of the game as an extremely tense game played out for 90-plus minutes. Then an incredible sequence began.

Quite what Michael Oliver gave Brentford an injury-time penalty for remains in question. Was it handball or a high boot by Jamie McCombe? Regardless, as Toumani Diagouraga fell to the turf in the middle of the box, the whistle blew and hearts jumped into mouths around Griffin Park. If the penalty is scored, Brentford are promoted. If it is missed, Rovers go up.

Marcello Trotta, the Bees’ in-form loan striker, wrestled the ball from the grasp of club captain Kevin O’Connor, the designated spot-kick taker. Rovers’ 43-year-old keeper Neil Sullivan did his best to disrupt the young Italian, earning a booking for his efforts. What came next is almost indescribable.

From despair to ecstasy in 18 seconds. Trotta blasted the penalty off the crossbar, Paul Quinn eventually scooped the ball clear where it was met on halfway by Billy Paynter, who had been crouched next to the dugout because he thought it was all over. He surged forward as a helpless Simon Moore did his best to stand him up, before rolling the ball sideways to the onrushing James Coppinger – who else? – to slot home and win Rovers not only the game but the championship as well.

It sparked pandemonium in the two-tiered away end. Flares went off, players jumped into the crowd. Coppinger threw his shirt to the fans and had to wear Kyle Bennett’s for the final few seconds of the match that followed. These are the moments that football is made for. This website is named for John Southall’s commentary of the winning goal, and we can be sure this will be being talked about for decades to come. Nevermind the last ten years, this moment in Doncaster Rovers history will go down as one of the most dramatic moments of all time.

Glen Wilson's magnificent commentary for RoversPlayer underlines the drama.


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