Doncaster Rovers 3 Southend United 0: Rovers ease past Shrimpers to strengthen grip on play-off spot
Mention Southend United at home to any Doncaster Rovers supporter and it immediately brings back memories of James Coppinger’s magical hat trick in the 2008 play-off semi-final.
More than ten years on, Coppinger was running rings around the Shrimpers hapless defenders again, as Grant McCann’s class of 2019 strengthened their grip on a top six spot.
And there is a growing feeling that this vibrant, adventurous team could be about to repeat the Wembley success of Sean O’Driscoll’s easy-on-the-eye Doncaster side.
Coppinger laid on John Marquis’s 22nd goal of the season before the break and produced some dazzling skills before putting his feet up for the last 20 minutes.
By then the game was won after Mallik Wilks had drilled home from inside the area.
The gloss was added to a thoroughly professional performance when Herbie Kane tapped in from close range to finish off an incisive break.
Sandwiched in between the return of Darren Ferguson with Peterborough United and Sunday’s mouthwatering FA Cup fifth round tie at home to Crystal Palace, there was an understandably low key feel to this game despite its clear importance in the race for the top six – which McCann had stressed in the build-up.
And, after going ahead, Rovers were ruthless, relentless and completely focused as they moved four points clear of seventh-placed Peterborough, still with a game in hand.
McCann, somewhat surprisingly, resisted the temptation to freshen up his side, naming an unchanged eleven from Saturday’s victory over Posh. His team made a quiet, unspectacular start as the visitors enjoyed decent territory without testing Marko Marosi.
However, with their first attempt on goal, Rovers took the lead on 14 minutes, Coppinger taking his time before crossing for Marquis to plant a header past Nathan Bishop.
The home side took control for the remainder of the half, moving through the gears.
Ben Whiteman went close with a deflected shot, Tom Anderson headed over from a corner and Ali Crawford would have added to his impressive freekick collection had it not been for a fine save from Bishop. From the resultant corner, John White’s sliced clearance came back off the underside off the bar.
Southend’s early promise had completely fizzled out after going behind, Timothee Diang’s header their only serious attempt of the first half.
From another Coppinger pass, Marquis went close almost immediately after the re-start but Bishop got down low to save.
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Rovers were the better side but the vulnerability of their lead was highlighted when Simon Cox was denied by a timely block from Aaron Lewis and then curled another chance wide.
The home side needed a second goal and it duly arrived on 55 minutes when Wilks advanced into the box and drilled underneath Bishop.
Marquis saw a header bounce off the bar from the impressive Danny Andrew's inswinging freekick and then was only denied his second by a brilliant goal-saving block from Elvis Bwomono.
But there was no let up for the visitors and, on 75 minutes, they were sliced open by Ali Crawford's through ball and Marquis crossed for Kane to tap home.
Michael Kightly had the ball in the net for United late on but was offside. Another good night’s work from Rovers.
ROVERS: Marosi, Lewis (Blair 65), Downing, Anderson, Andrew, Whiteman, Kane (Smith 77), Crawford, Coppinger (Sadlier 69), Wilks, Marquis.
SUBS NOT USED: Jones, Butler, Rowe, May.
SOUTHEND: Bishop, Bwomono, White (Turner 46), Moore, Hart, McLaughlin, Dieng, Klass (Kightly 58), Mantom, Cox, Humphreys.
SUBS NOT USED: Smith, Lennon, Wabo, Kelman, Hutchinson.
REFEREE: Anthony Backhouse