Big Match Verdict – It is up to Doncaster Rovers to stay in the hunt, says James Coppinger

On target: 'Doncaster's Mallik Wilks celebrates his opener. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
On target: 'Doncaster's Mallik Wilks celebrates his opener. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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SOMETIMES it is easier to be the chaser than the chased.

That is the experienced view of Doncaster Rovers legend James Coppinger.

Having played well over 500 games in 15 seasons for Rovers, Coppinger is well placed to assess what can happen during a run-in.

Coppinger does not believe the season has reached that stage just yet, with Rovers occupying the final play-off place as they head to Shrewsbury tomorrow with 14 games yet to play.

They are 13 points off the second automatic place occupied by Barnsley but are not writing off their chances of catching them.

After a flat second-half performance left them both frustrated and relieved to leave Glanford Park with a 1-1 draw, Coppinger said: “I genuinely don’t think we can say we see ourselves either as play-off or automatic promotion contenders.

We have to concentrate on ourselves. The manager is in our ear all the time about concentrating on ourselves. We pay a lot of attention to the opposition but it is all about what we do in the last 14 games.

James Coppinger

“It is a cliche but it really is all about taking each game at a time. It’s difficult when you are in the top two because I have been in that position where you go out and know that everybody is after you.

“Luton and Barnsley are doing really well at the minute and look like they are difficult to catch but with 14 games to go anything can happen – just look at Portsmouth, who were top for a long time.

“Sometimes it is easier being the chasers than the chased. When you are on a run like Luton, you feel invincible but when that defeat that you have never even thought about comes along, it takes that wind out of your sails – look at Portsmouth.

“We have to concentrate on ourselves. The manager is in our ear all the time about concentrating on ourselves. We pay a lot of attention to the opposition but it is all about what we do in the last 14 games.”

Rovers looked like a side capable of mounting a push for automatic promotion for long spells in the first period but their second-half display left one wondering if it is they who should be loooking over their shoulders even if they have at least one game in hand on all other clubs.

That is due to their tremendous run to the fifth round of the FA Cup and Coppinger refuted suggestions that last week’s Keepmoat exit to Crystal Palace had played any part in their inability to go on and secure the treble over The Iron.

“Based on the first-half performance, it was definitely two points dropped but you have to be ruthless when you get opportunities. We maybe thought it was a little bit too easy but you have to kill off games.

“We have not to be too disappointed as the games come thick and fast and we have to be ready to go again against Shrewsbury on Tuesday.

“We have been clinical in front of goal all season so we need to just put this one to one side.

“No, there was no Cup hangover, it had not even crossed my mind. We have to take the positives out of the game.”

He believes lessons will be learned after coming up against a Scunthorpe side rebuilt by Stuart McCall, who brought in eight new faces in the January transfer window and who has lifted them from relegation danger into 16th.

“It is important the younger players realise what has happened,” continued Coppinger. “They have done amazingly this season in situations like this when we have had to dig in in so many different circumstances where you get lured into a false sense of security. The hard work needs to be done when you get 1-0 up.

“We will have more opportunities and if we learn from what we did today all the better.

“It’s about getting not too excited. It’s not going to be easy. If we focus on picking up points in the next four or five games, as you get into the final run-in it makes it easier, if you like, it relieves a bit of pressure. If we can go into the run-in with a good points tally and momentum, it will make it a lot easier.”

Rovers welcomed back Mallik Wilks from suspension and he made a goal-scoring return against the club he opened the scoring against in the early-season Carabao Cup win.

Wilks struck from the edge of the area in the 25th minute but was forced to depart with a dead leg after the break and after captain John Marquis should have put the game to bed.

The central striker had two shots blocked and Wilks smashed the rebound against the post, the ball flying across to Herbie Kane, who knocked it back across only to see Marquis spoon it over from inside the six-yard area.

It was a costly miss and Kyle Wootton, who had been a threat throughout from his left flank role, raced in to leap and head home a deep cross from Tony McMahon in the 69th minute as the Rovers defence dithered.

Scunthorpe pressed for the winner to avenge a 3-0 defeat at the Keepmoat but the game finally degenerated into both sides hoofing the ball away from trouble.

Scunthorpe United: Alnwick, McMahon, McArdle, Burgess, McGahey; Hammill (Perch 86), Sutton, Ojo, Wootton; Thomas (Olomola 57); Novak. Unused substitutes: Vlatt, Webster, Van Veen, Pearce, El-Mhanni.

Doncaster Rovers: Marosi, Blair, Downing, Anderson, Andrew; Crawford (Rowe 81), Whiteman, Kane; Wilks (Sadlier 75), Marquis, Coppinger (Smith 75). Unused substitutes: Jones, Butler, May, Lewis.

Referee: J Brooks (Leics).