Doncaster Rovers v Hull City – Steady hand of James Coppinger set to return with calming influence
Since the 1-0 home win over Shrewsbury Town, Coppinger has had a calf injury, his longest absence “since Darren Ferguson, maybe before.” Without being part of training, never mind the team, his experience has largely been lost.
Doncaster host Hull City – the League One promotion rivals they hope to reel in – on the back of their longest losing sequence this season: three matches.
A young squad saw captain Ben Whiteman sold in January but it is since his successor, centre-back Tom Anderson, suffered concussion at Fleetwood Town that results have taken a dive.
Yesterday saw Anderson’s first contact training session back as manager Darren Moore decides if he is ready to play. Coppinger has declared himself fit and his influence could be massive.
Recently, though, he has been a non-person.
“When you’re injured, no one really wants to know about you, nobody really cares,” he says. “I’m not blaming anybody but the manager and coaches care about the first team and the group that potentially play in the first team. The injured people don’t get that love or feeling of being wanted.
“You try and affect the group but the group doesn’t want you either because they’re only involved with the people they’re playing with, training with, travelling with, and because games come thick and fast you almost get cast aside. It’s really difficult to have an influence as a senior professional.”
Asked if the young squad needs experience, he replies: “I wouldn’t even say experience, they need a bit more leadership.
“If you go through the three promotions, the four successes I’ve had at the club, going through the XIs and the benches, there’s leaders right the way through.
“Tommy Spurr, Jamie McCombe, Rob Jones, Paul Quinn – leaders. Neil Sullivan in goal – leader. Dean Furman, David Cotterill, Chris Brown, myself, the Wembley team (which won the 2008 League One play-offs) – Matt Mills, Sam Hird, James O’Connor, Gaz Roberts – players who had been there, done it, seen it to an extent.
“It’s so difficult when you’ve got a young group and that’s why they’ve done so well. There’s been some gritty performances, some where we’ve done really well, there’s a mixture.”
Anderson is a leader.
“Tom’s the player I’ve been most impressed by in terms of improvement,” says Coppinger.
“He came in (in 2018) at a crossroads in his career and he’s gone to a different level on and off the pitch. I’ve never seen someone so happy to become captain. It’s not even that he’s that vocal, he’s just there, this person you can count on.
“People talk about Tom tackling, smashing people and putting his body on the line but you probably won’t see a better passer from the back. His decision-making, the work he does every day to improve, he’s come on leaps and bounds.”
If Coppinger talks a lot about mentality, it is a passion of his. Today’s one-off shirts carry the logo of CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which works to prevent suicides.
“I’m huge on mental health,” he says. “I’ve got my own company working with players on mental performance but I think it is linked to mental health. It’s learning to control your thinking and the best way to get the best possible results. It’s not just on the pitch.
“It’s not something you just do when you feel down, you should do it every day, to put strategies, coping mechanisms and tools in place – I call it an invisible foundation so strong that if anything happens to you, like what’s happening (to the team) right now, you can deal with it.
“Because you can’t see how people feel, people are reluctant to buy into what you need to do to actually feel good so it’s about understanding what it looks like.”
Before Wednesday’s 5-0 win at Wigan Athletic, Hull were despairing in this most erratic season, winless in the last four games, goalless in three.
“The team that becomes the most consistent – like in any season – will run away with it but it doesn’t look like anyone wants to,” argues Coppinger. “Three good results in a week turns the momentum. It’s important we understand that and just try and take each game as it comes.”
A steadying hand could help. It might be time for the return of the golden boy.
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