I had a quick look on a couple of the Rovers supporters’ messageboards at the start of the week and was met with the sort of mood you expect at… All doom and gloom. The defence isn’t good enough. The squad isn’t strong enough. Ticket prices are too high. There’s no money to strengthen the squad. And the general consensus that the current side had no chance of threatening the top six of this division. And then lo and behold, one day later, Rovers win and are suddenly in the Championship’s top four, the club’s highest league position ever. Football eh?
So what’s changed since the start of the week? What massive overhaul has taken place to bring this reversal in fortunes. Well, the answer is nothing much, though Sean O’Driscoll did make the brave move of taking two underperforming players out of his starting line-up last night. You are probably thinking there is nothing brave in removing those who are not playing well, but when one of them is your captain and the other is your vice-captain to be replaced by a player signed from non-league and making his first league start then its a pretty bold move. Out went Brian Stock and Adam Lockwood, in came Mark Wilson and Mustapha Dumbuya and with James O’Connor reverting to centre-back quash the supporters’ main concern, namely the lack of pace in the middle of defence.
Though Neil Sullivan was the first keeper in action, getting down to smother a low cross, it was Rovers who had the better of the game’s quarter of an hour. Norwich City’s John Ruddy was brought into action by players from both sides as he first comfortably held a long-range John Oster effort, before fielding a slice from Elliott Ward as the defender miscued a cross rom Dumbuya. Rovers kept their early pressure up as Jamie Coppinger was next to test Ruddy; the goalkeeper getting across his net well to turn away a long-range strike. That effort was to prove something of a range-finder for Coppinger as fourteen minutes in the midfielder opened the scoring with a superb strike into the top corner from distance described as “unbelievably ace” by our man in the West Stand.
A goal down the visitors found their stride for a short while and forced their first telling effort on goal in the minutes after Coppinger’s strike as Chris Martin fired wide from distance. Rovers though were continuing to create chances of their own with Martin Woods firing wide from Coppinger’s pull-back and Simon Gillett (twice) and Billy Sharp both having efforts comfortably fielded by Ruddy. As half-time approached Norwich began to come back into the game and in the fifteen minutes before the break were arguably the better side. Leon Barnett saw a header saved from an Anthony McNamee cross and then Sullivan had to be alert again a couple of minutes later to smother a low cross with City players ready to pounce to ensure Rovers went into half-time a goal to the good.
With Norwich unable to rekindle their pre-break momentum the opening exchanges of the second-half unfolded relatively evenly, though that changed five minutes in as Rovers doubled their lead. Sharp fed George Friend on the left and with Ruddy unable to hold the full-back’s drive goalwards the ball fell loose in the area with Coppinger first to react and turn the ball home. Rovers increased lead was under threat almost immediately though as Norwich won a free-kick and Martin hit a firm strike goalwards. Sullivan did well to turn the strike away and then the keeper managed to block the follow-up effort to turn the ball behind for a corner. That resulting deadball was no less threatening as Dumbuya was forced to hack the ball off the line with the visiting fans behind the goal claiming it had gone in.
Rovers managed a brief forray forward of their own on the hour mark as Coppinger ran at the visitors from his own half and worked the ball to Woods via Gillett, though his strike was beaten away by Ruddy. Within a matter of minutes though the ball was in the net at the other end as Norwich reduced the deficit; a cross from the left headed home by Russell Martin to make for a nervy final quarter at the Keepmoat Stadium as Norwich pushed for an equaliser. Though for all their possession in Rovers’ half City struggled to create a genuine chance with only a volleyed effort from Wes Hoolahan forcing Sullivan into action.
Finally, with four minutes left Rovers were given some breathing space as they re-established their two goal lead. Substitute Dean Shiels won a free-kick on the corner of the area and Coppinger stepped up to take it, his strike taking a deflection to loop it up and over Ruddy and into the back of the net to complete his second Rovers hat-trick and effectively win the game for Rovers. Norwich pushed again in the closing minutes, but still struggled to create any genuine chances with the only strike on target in the five minutes injury time coming from Mark Wilson. The final whistle sealed a first win over Norwich for Rovers for 75 years, and that’s not all stat fans, it was acheived without Rovers winning a single corner in the game.
So a welcome home win and a Jamie Coppinger hat-trick. Do you remember when that last happened? Remember who Rovers played in their next match? Remember how that game panned out? Maybe this isn’t quite as good as it gets.
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-2-2-1-1); Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, James O’Connor, Shelton Martis, George Friend; John Oster (Brian Stock), Mark Wilson; Simon Gillett (Dean Shiels), Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger; Billy Sharp (Sam Hird)
subs not used: Gary Woods, Adam Lockwood, Ryan Mason, Waide Fairhurst
Norwich City line-up (4-4-1-1); John Ruddy; Russell Martin, Leon Barnett, Elliott Ward, Adam Drury; Chris Martin, Andrew Crofts, Korey Smith (Stephen Hughes), Anthony McNamee (Simeon Jackson); Wes Hoolahan; Grant Holt (Oli Johnson)
subs not used: Declan Rudd, David Fox, Simon Lappin, Berthel Askou
booked: Leon Barnett, Elliott Ward