Rochdale 2 Doncaster Rovers 3: James Coppinger is the answer yet again in battling triumph of collective will – match analysis

James Coppinger. Picture: Heather King
James Coppinger. Picture: Heather King

In an hour of need, the question of who Doncaster Rovers can turn to need not be asked.

Fourteen years of experience has taught enough lessons to know that James Coppinger is typically the answer.

In a knock-down, drag-out affair in horrendous conditions at Rochdale, three pieces of trademark Coppinger quality paved the way for a tremendously hard-earned victory for Rovers.

Under pressure for so long against a quality opposition, Rovers again showed they have the fight out of possession to match their own impressive ability in it.

And Coppinger again demonstrated the same game-changing, result-affecting ability he has always possessed as he provided three assists of the highest quality.

He made sure to point out afterwards that the assists would have been nothing without the quality on the other end.

And he was right to do so.

The first, giving Rovers a lead they would never relinquish, saw Ali Crawford spin off into space on the edge of the box to receive a smart cutback which he whipped into the top corner with a first time strike for his first goal for the club.

The second, five minutes in the second half and handing Rovers a cushion, saw a racing Andy Butler escape the attention of Kgosi Ntlhe for long enough to stop, leap and powerfully head home a Coppinger corner.

And the third, coming after Rochdale had pulled a goal back and threatened an equaliser, saw substitute Jermaine Anderson charged from deep to arrive onto the end of a stunning cross and poke past Josh Lillis.

YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK

There was an element of good fortune about Rovers’ victory but only in a manner that would see Rochdale bemoaning profligacy and hesitation in front of goal.

In their bid to cancel out Crawford’s opener, Rochdale provided an unimaginable miss when Ian Henderson somehow managed to hit the crossbar from four yards out with the goal at his mercy after his initial effort was blocked by the superb Niall Mason.

So many times did Rochdale look for the extra pass when they got into advanced areas, showing a lack of ruthlessness which Rovers showcased in droves.

The hosts will no doubt have felt hard done by in coming out on the losing end of a very competitive game that was an excellent advert for League One football.

After falling behind they had the better of the first half and most of the second before desperation set in as they looked for a late equaliser.

They looked to have clawed their way back in when Henderson drilled in from the penalty spot after John Marquis had bundled over the lively Ntlhe.

And again, eight minutes from time, when Ntlhe himself hooked in a loose ball from close range.

But what kept Rovers’ noses in front throughout was the workrate which began at the first whistle and lasted until the final one.

They pressed high and hard, attempting to deny a fellow ball-playing outfit any space in which to do so.

Up against a midfield diamond, they were often stretched and overran but their effort helped ensure Rochdale could not unduly capitalise.

And the finish could even had been a little more comfortable had referee Scott Oldham awarded a penalty for a foul on substitute Mallik Wilks which both managers agreed should have been given.

QUESTION ANSWERED

Arguably there was one serious question hanging over Grant McCann’s Doncaster Rovers before the weekend.

Just how would they cope with losing a string of games?

Well, they answered that in an emphatic manner with a battling performance in a thoroughly entertaining contest at wind-swept Rochdale.

Recovering from a heavy, confidence-sapping defeat to Fleetwood Town the week before, Rovers showed a phenomenal work ethic, tremendous resolve and pure ruthlessness in front of goal 

Seven shots, six of them on target, and three goals scored.

Though it was a much-changed side that beat Grimsby Town in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek, that triumph provided a palate-cleanser for the club.

And it helped bring out a performance where there was not a single doubt in any of the players’ minds nor any worry about not winning a game of football.

Speaking to the media afterwards, McCann revealed long-serving goalkeeping coach Paul Gerrard had told the dressing room that he had been to Spotland plenty of times with Rovers and see them throw away games.

It was a comment to highlight the superior mental strength the current Rovers squad has in relation to previous incarnations.

And Gerrard was right to do so.

In a couple of weeks when they have been more seriously questioned than at any time this term, they showed excellent resolve.

They had no thoughts in their mind other than winning that game of football.

JUSTIFIED SELECTION

There were a few different ways McCann could have gone with his starting XI for this game.

A few players had been struggling for form while others had more than put their hands up for selection with strong performances off the bench or in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy triumph.

In the end, making just the two changes was proved right for the Rovers boss.

Crawford coming in for the suspended Herbie Kane was the obvious choice given the manner in which he has returned from injury.

Rewarding McCann’s faith with a goal was the icing on the cake in a strong performance which asked more from the Scottish midfielder than his usual quality on the ball.

And then there was Alfie May in for a striker in Mallik Wilks that has looked in need of a rest, or the geeing up that dropping to the bench may deliver.

May has been superb off the bench in recent weeks and was excellent in the win over Grimsby, even if he should have scored more than the two he did.

Not only was he deserving of his chance for a start, he was a better option than Wilks in a game where hard running when the opposition were in possession was desperately needed.

There had been calls for Ian Lawlor to be handed a start himself between the sticks but Marko Marosi fully justified keeping hold of his shirt with one spectacular save and a commanding performance in the box.

TOGETHERNESS IN SPADES

A glance towards the Rovers bench during the tense final 20 minutes or so of an enthralling encounter would have told you all you needed to know about the unity in the squad.

Every decision was passionately contested by staff, substitutes and those who had already been out on the pitch alike.

Lawlor – who will no doubt have been disappointed not to start – was as passionate as anyone, launching into tirades at the fourth official and getting involved in shoving matches with opposition players.

Togetherness got Rovers through a tough afternoon, but it clearly goes beyond what is seen on the pitch.