JAMES Coppinger claims it would be one of the biggest achievements of his footballing life helping Doncaster Rovers pull off the great escape.
Despite halting a run of three straight league defeats at Crystal Palace in midweek, Rovers remain entrenched in the Championship relegation zone.
Substitute Chris Brown rescued a draw at Selhurst Park but despite picking up a well-earned point from their trip to the capital, Dean Saunders troops slipped to the bottom of the division following Portsmouth’s 2-0 win over Hull City.
Time is running out for Rovers to save themselves from the drop and the pressure is mounting on the team to string two to three victories together to get out of the precarious position they are in, starting with Birmingham City tonight.
Coppinger, Rovers longest-serving player, has been at the club since joining from Exeter City in June 2004. He has featured prominently at Rovers, making 270-plus starts in the league.
“It would probably be one of the best moments in my footballing career if we could stay up,” Coppinger told The Star. “At the moment it is not looking good but we have to keep battling and keep trying to put performances in and hopefully the results will come.
“We have got to show a bit more belief. We have to keep getting together and grind results out.
“We have got seven games left and it is still possible. We have to keep going.
“This is now the business end of the season and we’ve got to start picking up points. Every game is like a cup final- we have to win as many as we can. “
Coppinger fears the hectic March fixture schedule has taken its toll on the squad. The clash with promotion-chasing Birmingham will be the club’s ninth match in the space of 31 days.
“Physically it is challenging but also mentally,” said Coppinger “It is frustrating when you are playing game after game and not doing particularly well. It tests you in the mind more than anything.
“We are not the youngest team and we have had players come in from different places and it has been difficult to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. It gives you no time to recover.”
Guisborough-born Coppinger, contracted to Rovers until 2014, broke his cheekbone at Bristol City in January after an alleged headbutt by Yannick Bolasie. It kept the skilful winger out of action for six weeks.
“It has been frustrating,” he said. “I had six weeks out and when I came back, I was thrown straight into the deep end after a week’s training playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. It has been difficult.
“Maybe the run [of games] we have had now as caught up with me,” he admitted. “I came off after 60-70 minutes in the three games we lost.
The 31-year-old is confident Rovers can pick up a positive result tonight.
Coppinger, who played an instrumental role in the club lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in 2007 and gaining promotion to the second tier of English football a year later, said: “Confidence is not an issue individually but as a team you start to doubt things that you are doing.
“It is a matter of re-grouping and trying to find that confidence in a performance and we need it sooner rather than later. If we can put back-to-back wins together, which we have not done all season, we have a good chance of getting out of it.
“As a professional sports person, you’ve got to believe you can do anything until it is mathematically impossible. We have believed all season we can get out of it and we have got seven games to do it.”
Teams and ref
rovers (possible): Ikeme; O’Connor or Dumbuya, Hird, Lockwood, Ilunga; Bennett, Gillett, Oster, Robert; Diouf, Piquionne (4-4-2).
BIRMINGHAM (possible): Myhill, Ramage, Caldwell, Davies, Murphy; Burke, N’Daw, Mutch, Elliott; Huseklepp, King (4-4-2).
Colin Wwebster (Tyne & Wear): has dished out 79 bookings and seven red cards in 33 matches. His last Rovers game in October when he took charge of the 1-1 draw with Coventry City where he cautioned Brian Stock and Simon Gillett.
One to watch
Marlon King leads the way in the goal-scoring charts for Birmingham City, having plundered 14 in 40 appearances since arriving on a free-transfer from Coventry last summer. At this level, the powerful centre-forward is a handful on his day.
Rovers have lost the last seven meetings with the Blues and they last beat the Midlands outfit in 1954. In December, King’s second-half double condemned Rovers to a 2-1 loss at St Andrews, cancelling out Marc-Antoine Fortune’s opener.