IN almost 15 years with Doncaster Rovers and more than 600 appearances, James Coppinger has pretty much seen it all.
His roll of honour in red and white includes helping Rovers mark in glorious fashion being the last Yorkshire club to play at the Millennium Stadium during the half dozen years when English football’s showpiece occasions decamped to Wales.
Bristol Rovers were the opposition that April afternoon in 2007 as Doncaster painted Cardiff Johnstone’s Paint red after lifting the Football League Trophy.
The two Rovers have met six times since that 3-2 triumph in the Principality and the South Yorkshire club has won five of them.
Coppinger has been involved in all but one of those victories. Few, though, saw this most venerable of veterans enjoy as much influence as he did last night.
The man who is honoured at the Keepmoat Stadium by a giant board behind one goal that simply reads ‘Legend’ netted twice inside the opening 12 minutes and then created another with a quite sublime assist.
Coppinger’s heroics helped set Grant McCann’s men on their way to a victory that reclaimed the play-off place surrendered so meekly in last weekend’s 4-0 thrashing at Luton Town.
Rovers now enjoy a two point advantage over nearest rivals Peterborough United, who are without a game this weekend due to scheduled opponents Portsmouth being involved in the Checkatrade Trophy final.
It means another home win on Saturday, relegation threatened Walsall are the visitors, will leave Doncaster handily placed to push on and clinch that prized final play-offs berth.
No wonder all but the Bristolians in a 6,907 crowd who braved a cold South Yorkshire night left sporting broad smiles. With good cause, too, as the hosts ended their eight-game wait for a league victory with the sort of commanding display that can set a team up perfectly for the run-in.
McCann’s decision to tweak his formation in the wake of how horribly one-sided the battle in the centre of the Kenilworth Road pitch had been three days earlier proved an inspired move.
He charged Tommy Rowe and Ali Crawford with the task of anchoring midfield, allowing Malik Wilks and Kieran Sadlier to play either side of Coppinger in an attack-minded trio behind lone frontman John Marquis.
The trio had clearly been given licence to get forward as much as possible, a bold approach that was rewarded with all three getting on the scoresheet.
Coppinger broke the deadlock inside three minutes. There was an element of good fortune in that the ball squirmed under goalkeeper Jack Bonham en route to finding the net.
But Coppinger’s sense of anticipation played a big part in creating an opportunity that came his way via a Marquis pass.
His second goal was again created by Doncaster’s top scorer. Marquis’s deft lay-off found Coppinger 25 yards from goal and there was never any doubt as to what he was going to do next.
This, though, did not help Bonham in the visitors’ goal as the resulting shot arrowed into the corner of the net. It took Coppinger’s tally of goals for the season to six and a remarkable 69 overall in Rovers’ colours.
There is, though, a lot more to Coppinger than just goals, as he proved with the assist that helped put the hosts 3-0 ahead.
His slide rule pass carved open the Pirates defence at a stroke. Leeds United loanee Wilks, as lively last night as he had been anonymous in the Luton defeat, then cut inside his marker to unleash a shot that beat Bonham at his near post.
Graham Coughlan’s side had arrived in Yorkshire unbeaten in nine games on the road, six of which had been won.
They attempted a brief rally just before the break as Marko Marosi saved, first, from Gavin Reilly and then even more impressively to keep out Tom Locktyr’s effort from close range.
Marosi’s double save paved the way for the hosts to kill off any hopes of a fightback just 35 seconds after the restart.
Marquis unwittingly provided his third assist of the night by standing on the ball 30 yards from goal.
Sadlier swooped immediately, curling an exquisite shot beyond Bonham. The visitors did net a consolation when Clark-Harris beat Marosi from the penalty spot after Matty Blair had tripped James Clarke.
But there was no denying the night belonged to Doncaster and Coppinger, who on this showing may well be enjoying a fourth promotion – and second appearance at Wembley – of his career come May 26.
Doncaster Rovers: Marosi; Blair, Downing, Butler, Andrew; Rowe, Crawford; Wilks (IMay 75), Coppinger (Beestin 79), Sadlier (Smith 84); Marquis. Unused substitutes: Jones, Anderson, Hasani, Lewis.
Bristol Rovers: Bonham; Clarke, Locktyr, Craig, Holmes-Dennis (Partington 72); Upson (Sinclair 75), Ogogo, O Clarke, Jakubiak (Moore 82); Reilly, Clarke-Harris. Unused substitutes: Smith, Kilgour, Sercombe, Nichols.
Referee: M Coy (County Durham).