The legend that is James Coppinger lives on for Doncaster Rovers
When James Coppinger, wearing gold-embossed boots bought by his team-mates and blessed with a golden association with Doncaster Rovers, stepped up to take a free-kick in the 12th minute of stoppage time in front of the Black Bank – his terrain but sadly devoid of his people – watching Rovers fans at home knew.
You suspect that deep down, Hull City head coach Grant McCann, formerly of these parts, probably knew as well.
Coppinger, who only came onto the pitch in the 86th minute – added to his medley of magical Keepmoat moments with an equalising strike to behold. Hat-tricks against Southend and Norwich and plenty more golden goals to savour and now this. Potentially a parting gift.
The veteran sped off to celebrate with his Rovers colleagues, all wearing a special commemorative gold kit designed by Coppinger and his young sons to mark his 17th season at the club.
All that was missing was a red Superman cape for the hero.
It was the final act of an afternoon which had everything. “Just another game,” said McCann before his spicy first return to the Keepmoat. It was anything but.
More’s the pity no fans were there to witness it. Bet your bottom dollar that the home contingent would have heartily made their feelings known at the end towards McCann, who was booked in the second half and angered by the performance of Charles Breakspear in awarding Rovers a penalty and the free-kick for Coppinger’s strike.
Dominant in the first half and leading 3-1 after three clinical headed goals from three delicious deliveries, Hull contrived to blow it on the resumption – a side who are strong when the going is good, but who can display a soft underbelly when the pressure is on.
Jacob Greaves, whose joy at scoring his first City goal to put his side 3-1 ahead was tempered by events after, said: “It was a freak game. They scored a penalty that was so soft and that is not how you referee games for me.
“Mallik [Wilks] just got his body there. He’s a big boy and with his strength, the kid (Josh Sims) has just fallen to the ground. I think the referee wanted to give it.
“Then, there is a free-kick and he [Coppinger] has put it in the top corner. You have to hold your hands up, but I am very disappointed. We lost the braveness that we had in the first half.”
A game which showed the qualities and vulnerabilities of two Yorkshire promotion contenders, this wonderful spectacle left you hankering for more at the end after the second dramatic finale between them this term.
Maybe there is more to come. A play-off meeting would not be the biggest surprise and for all the entertainment here, this result also suited their rivals at the top.
For Hull, there were potential further ramifications as well.
The sight of captain George Honeyman receiving lengthy treatment late on after sustaining a head injury, caught by an accidental elbow by Rovers substitute Jason Lokilo, helped contribute to 16 minutes of stoppage time.
Honeyman was eventually stretchered off in a neck brace before being assessed in hospital.
To compound matters, City had already lost fellow midfielder Greg Docherty to a groin injury early in the second half with Breakspear telling the player to make his own way off the pitch to the displeasure of irate McCann.
The madcap nature of the day was summed up best by the fact that Wilks scored twice against his former club, but still contrived to concede a penalty.
For Hull and Wilks, it began pretty swingingly. Fresh from his hat-trick at Wigan, Wilks clinically headed in two quality deliveries by Callum Elder and Docherty as he seized upon woeful marking.
It was a first-half theme as Rovers looked susceptible every time a cross was thrown into the area.
After Omar Bogle’s effort was cleared off the line by Josh Magennis, a rasping drive by Reece James got Rovers back in it before another awful concession in the air when Greaves nodded in Honeyman’s inswinging corner. It was the seventh headed goal Doncaster had conceded in a week.
Earlier, two brilliant blocks from Tom Anderson prevented certain goals for Docherty.
In the second half, Rovers got it together, aided by the calming influence of replacement John Bostock and a renewed ability to play off Bogle.
They still had to survive a big moment in the context of the game when Keane Lewis-Potter could only dink a lob against the post after a poor error from Ellery Balcombe, stranded out of goal.
A huge penalty call for handball against Lewie Coyle fell on deaf ears and another shout was quickly rebuffed before Rovers finally had their moment after Wilks was penalised. It looked soft, but Bogle set up the grandstand finale. Cue Coppinger.
Doncaster Rovers: Balcombe; Halliday, Wright, Anderson; James; Smith (Robertson 86), Gomes (Bostock 45); Taylor, Richards (Coppinger 86), Sims (Lokilo 76); Bogle. Unused substitutes: L Jones, Butler, John.
Hull City: Ingram; Coyle, Burke, Greaves, Elder; Honeyman, A Jones, Docherty (Slater 56); Wilks (Emmanuel 81), Magennis (Whyte 69), Lewis-Potter. Unused substitutes: Long, Scott, McLoughlin, Crowley.
Referee: C Breakspear (Surrey).
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