Coppinger's Doncaster highlights

Simeon Gholam

EFL Reporter @simgholam

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Last Updated: 14/03/19 3:22pm

James Coppinger probably didn’t think that when he joined Doncaster in 2004 he would be there more than 15 years later.

But here he is, more than 600 appearances, more than 60 goals and more than 220 team-mates later, still at the Keepmoat Stadium.

It wasn’t the easiest start for him, though. Coppinger failed to score at all during his first season at the club, but he did find the back of the net in a penalty shoot-out against Manchester City in the League Cup in 2005, as they saw off three Premier League sides on the way to the quarter-finals.

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“The cup run was massive,” he said. “It was three Premier League teams we beat and I scored my first goal in a shootout against Man City with David James in goal.

“I was playing really well but I wasn’t scoring. I was assisting a lot but there was no end product. That was definitely the start of my run and, as I say, 14 years on and I’m still here.”

Coppinger in action against Manchester City in the League Cup in 2005

Coppinger in action against Manchester City in the League Cup in 2005

A couple of years later came the first silverware of Coppinger’s career, as his side beat Bristol Rovers 3-2 in the final of the 2007 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

“We scored two goals. One from Neil Sullivan kicking it downfield and Jonathan Forte or Paul Heffernan getting on the end of it and scoring,” Coppinger remembered. “Then, before you know it they got a penalty and then it was 2-2 and we were going into extra-time.

“But the euphoria of winning that sort of competition, it is the kind of thing you want to a be a part of and it kick-started the run this club went on.”

The run he speaks of includes their promotion to the Championship the following season, making it back to the second tier of the English game for the first time since 1958.

They had to do it the hard way, though, as they finished third in League One and had to get through the play-offs.

Coppinger scoring against Southend during their League One play-off semi-final

Coppinger scoring against Southend during their League One play-off semi-final

Southend were the opposition in the semi-finals, but after a goalless draw at Roots Hall in the first leg, Coppinger was the star of the second, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 win to send his side to Wembley.

“It was a beautiful summer night,” he said. “It was 0-0 at Southend in the first leg but then they came to Doncaster and a full Keepmoat, which is an amazing atmosphere. To score a hat-trick on an occasion like that was a dream come true for me.

“But we didn’t celebrate the semi-final. We came in after and got changed afterwards as if it was just another game.”

Leeds were the opposition in the final as they looked to bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking. They were the favourites, but it was Doncaster who prevailed.

Coppinger in action against Leeds during the League One play-off final in 2008

Coppinger in action against Leeds during the League One play-off final in 2008

“We turned up for the final knowing we were the underdogs but we thought we could pull it off, because we knew we had nothing to lose,” said Coppinger.

“We sensed a little bit of blood and, without sounding corny, felt it was a bit written in the stars. A Yorkshire derby like that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and not many players get to play at Wembley.”

Doncaster spent four seasons in the Championship before being relegated in 2013. They did, however, manage to bounce back at the first time of asking thanks to one of the most dramatic finishes to any season in history.

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They faced Brentford at Griffon Park in vital promotion clash on the final day of the season. Doncaster needed a draw to seal an automatic-promotion spot but the Bees needed to win to get into the top two.

Then, in stoppage time with the game goalless, Brentford were awarded a penalty…

“The game against Brentford will stick in my mind forever,” said Coppinger. “Obviously it was a dubious penalty from our perspective, but [Marcelo Trotta] stepped up and hit the bar.

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it now.”

Coppinger celebrates with his team-mates after their remarkable win over Brentford in 2013

Coppinger celebrates with his team-mates after their remarkable win over Brentford in 2013

With Brentford devastated, Doncaster raced up the other side and Coppinger tapped home from close range to seal a win. With Bournemouth drawing elsewhere it meant they also went up as champions.

“I watch it back now and from the moment [I scored] I just can’t remember anything! I took off my shirt as well, which I’ve never done,” he said.

Doncaster’s form dipped in the next couple of seasons and they swiftly found themselves down in League Two. Coppinger stayed as a regular presence, however, and on September 10, 2016 he made his 500th appearance for the club against Morecambe.

“It was a memorable day,” he said. “To get to 500 for one club was special. The lads bought me a cake and made a big thing of it, which I didn’t like! But it coincided with a fantastic run of form.”

Doncaster won promotion back to League One that season and they are now pushing for the play-offs again and hoping for a return to the Championship.

Coppinger turned 38 in January, but has no intention of retiring just yet.

“It is a privileged position,” he said. “I am fortunate to be a professional footballer and I have worked hard for it.

“For me to stop just because I am a certain age is ludicrious really. The older I’ve got the harder it has been, but it has made me rise to the challenge more.”

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