Who Else But Copps?: Gillingham 2-2 Doncaster Rovers
How many more times can we hail the brilliance of James Coppinger? Once again it was the veteran club legend who came to Rovers’ rescue to earn a battling point against a Gillingham side, who threatened to blow Andy Butler’s side away with a quickfire double to kick off an entertaining afternoon at the Priestfield Stadium.
Coppinger set Tom Anderson up for the first with a wonderful right-wing delivery before smartly finishing off an attacking move from inside the penalty area, taking sole ownership of fifth spot on the club’s all-time goalscoring chart from Brendan O’Callaghan in the process.
A Nightmare Start
Rovers’ well-documented defensive woes showed themselves from the very start on Saturday afternoon.
In what will surely be the nadir for the back four’s recent struggles, Gillingham took the lead inside two minutes with a move that began from an inconspicuous throw-in deep in their own half. John Akinde got the better of Tom Anderson far too easily on the halfway line and fed the ball wide, and when the ball came across the six yard box and Louis Jones lost out to Kyle Dempsey, the rest of the defence was drawn to the ball leaving Jordan Graham free at the back post to score.
Things got worse only two minutes later when Vadaine Oliver smashed home an excellent Ryan Jackson cross after getting across Matt Smith in the area, leaving the visitors with an almighty uphill task. The organisation and solidity has disappeared completely from this back-line, with every member of the defence regularly losing one-on-ones, getting slipped by attackers and generally being pulled from pillar to post in every game. It is now just one clean sheet in 13 games for Rovers, hardly promotion form in any respect.
Thankfully, things improved from there and in the second half, the defence stood up well to a lot of aerial pressure from Jackson’s long-throws. Joe Wright made a goal-saving block to deny a certain goal for Dempsey and Tom Anderson headed everything away to earn Rovers the point, but it could have been a much different afternoon if they had just had some semblance of coherence from the kick-off and this unit must find their feet again if Rovers are to make the Play-Offs.
77 Up for Copps
Andy Butler bemoaned the lack of mental fortitude shown by his side in the midweek collapse at Oxford last Tuesday, with heads clearly going down after the first goal conceded. This was addressed and rectified for the Gillingham game though, with Rovers responding superbly to the early setbacks. They began to boss the game and got on the ball further up the field, and found themselves back from the brink only quarter of an hour later largely thanks to the contributions of James Coppinger.
The midfield maestro was at it again, first working a corner short with Josh Sims to arrow in a cross that Anderson rose to meet and guide into the net to halve the deficit, and then scoring himself with a cool finish from 15 yards out to make it 2-2. That goal came from good, incisive play down the left as Coppinger pivoted and laid the ball to the byline for Branden Horton, who cut it back to Sims in the area before Copps took over and netted the equaliser for his 77th goal in a Rovers shirt.
He may be 40-years-old but recent games have shown that Coppinger is still the man to count on when the chips are down, and as the hype train gets up to speed again there must surely be a growing question in his mind that he could do this for one more year and get a proper send-off from the loyal Rovers fans who hold him so close to their hearts.
Desperately Seeking Bostock
It goes without saying that replacing Ben Whiteman was always going to be a tall order. The former captain was an excellent playmaker and had blossomed into an all-round midfield talent that played a central role in how the team played. Darren Moore elected to turn to John Bostock as his ready-made replacement, and so far the former Tottenham prodigy has shown plenty of class in his limited appearances, and he is clearly an important player to have fit.
Without him, Rovers just haven’t got the control or penetration in the centre of the park that they need. The latter of those qualities was shown up in the frustrating 0-0 draw with relegation-threatened Northampton, and the element of control and calm in midfield has been lost against Oxford and Gillingham. Butler wants his teams to move quickly up the field, but at Priestfield Rovers were restricted primarily to playing balls up to Omar Bogle and once Coppinger was withdrawn on the hour mark, Rovers lost all semblance of attacking intent.
Bogle has done a strong job in that forward role, holding the ball up and bringing team-mates into play, but without Bostock anchoring midfield there isn’t enough creativity to keep opposing defences guessing and it is imperative that he is brought back to full fitness in time to face Milton Keynes next weekend. That is doubly the case because Matt Smith will be away on international duty, and Smith has been the best passer in the team in Bostock’s absence even if he doesn’t quite have the same level of vision for a killer ball.