FORGET Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and Leeds United, Barnsley are as big as it gets in the derby stakes for Doncaster Rovers.
That is the view of Rovers stalwart James Coppinger, a ‘Pitmen’s derby’ veteran with a medley of memories, good and bad, of match-ups between near-neighbours separated by just 16 miles.
Both rivals are neck-and-neck with 23 wins each from their previous league meetings after reacquainting themselves in October, 2004 following a 25-year gap.
Following their previous game in April, 1979, Rovers’ derby emphasis switched to Rotherham and York and then Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Scarborough, but for close to the last decade, Doncaster have locked horns again with their traditional rivals.
Admitting the game has a distinctive edge on all others, Coppinger said: “In my opinion, Barnsley is the biggest (derby) since I’ve been here.
“I lived in Doncaster for nine years and know how much it means to everybody; the fans especially. The players as well.
“As far as a few of my friends are concerned, it’s the biggest. It’s a massive rivalry and we have great support from our fans in that far end behind the goal (at Oakwell).
“People say: ‘Oh it’s Barnsley’ this week and, for them, it’s the most important game of the season. It’s a fantastic atmosphere.”
Coppinger famously scored the winner with the only goal of the game at Oakwell in March, 2010, with his darkest memory arriving in October, 2008 when he was part of the Doncaster side who surrendered a 1-0 lead against 10-man hosts in a remarkable second-half collapse which saw the Tykes turn the tables to triumph 4-1 in stunning fashion.
Ahead of this afternoon’s contest, the stakes are particularly high with both sides in the danger area towards the foot of the Championship. Both sets of players and supporters are desperate to head into the international break with not only the derby bragging rights but three precious points to ease their immediate plight.
For Rovers, a fourth successive defeat would rub a barrel of salt into the wounds following a tough three weeks with Coppinger admitting the result is all that counts for Paul Dickov’s troops, who have shipped 11 goals in their last three outings.
Minus the presence of defensive leader Rob Jones and with at least three of their back four this afternoon likely to be loanees, it is not rocket science to deduce what Dickov’s training-ground priority has been this week – rearguard organisation.
Coppinger, who turned down a loan move to Barnsley last season, said: “We’d like to go there and put on a performance. But a result is the main thing at the minute.
“We have got to look at what we have been doing wrong and try and put it right.
“We’ve been conceding sloppy goals and tried to rectify that on the training ground.
“We had a meeting on Tuesday and it’s something everybody is aware of and we’ve got to put right.
“We’ve spoken about our defending as a team, what our jobs are and going back to basics.
“We will be looking at the Sheffield Wednesday game as an example and try and take that into this game.”