Norwich City stunned by Coppinger hat-trick
DONCASTER ROVERS 3, NORWICH CITY 1
Norwich City's mini-unbeaten run came to an end – but not for the lack of trying.
The Canaries – unbeaten since the opening day – had all but the kitchen sink going their way for the second 45 minutes, but couldn't haul back a two-goal deficit.
And when they did make an indent – through Russell Martin's first goal for the club – James Coppinger completed his hat-trick to end any hopes of leaving Yorkshire with at least a point.
At this stage of the season perhaps it can be regarded as a Championship lesson learned – and proof that feet most certainly should be kept on the ground.
Rovers boss Sean O'Driscoll warned that, on their day, City were as good as anything in this division – but a failure to sustain it over 90 minutes cost them last night.
Even the presence of referee Eddie Ilderton, who had angered manager Paul Lambert so much at Tranmere last season, couldn't be blamed this time.
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Lambert doesn't often change a winning side, but Anthony McNamee did enough in Saturday's 2-1 win over Barnsley to earn himself his first start of the campaign on the left side of midfield, with Simon Lappin dropping to the bench. John Ruddy returned in goal after missing that game with a dead leg, but otherwise City had a familiar look about them, with Chris Martin concentrating his efforts up front after having his assault charge adjourned in his absence by magistrates earlier in the day. It was quickly apparent that Martin was playing more to the left, McNamee on the right, the pincers to support Holt when City moved forward.
City took less than 30 seconds to bring keeper Neil Sullivan into action, with a low cross that the former Tottenham man had to stretch to keep hold of, although John Oster stung Ruddy's hands with a long-range effort moments later. It was a busy start from both sides, with McNamee quickly into the action with a lovely curling free-kick that Doncaster managed to clear.
Right-back Mustapha Dumbuya caused a few nerves in the City defence when Elliott Ward got a boot to an innocent-enough low ball into the area, forcing Ruddy to move sharply to avert a mini-disaster – although the City keeper had a clear view of Coppinger's 20-yarder on 13 minutes, diving full length to his right to parry it away.
But a minute later he had no chance as Coppinger scored a beauty: it started when Holt was dispossessed on the halfway line by James O'Connor, who slipped it forward where Coppinger, some 25 yards out, turned, looked up and planted a peach of a right-footer into the top right-hand corner. It had come at the end of a good spell of patient possession by Rovers, who grew in confidence as the half progressed.
Martin almost got City back into it within minutes with an equally spectacular effort of his own. Holt battled for possession and referee Ilderton allowed play to go on when Martin took possession before cutting inside and firing a 25-yarder just wide of Sullivan's left-hand post.
The game was moving from end to end, although the bulk of possession belonged to the hosts. Ward almost helped Rovers on the way to a second goal, his sloppy short pass gratefully snapped up by Coppinger before skipper Martin Woods, in acres of space just outside the area, fired narrowly wide.
Midway through the first half and Rovers were in control, with City guilty of some loose passing. Ruddy had to get down low to gather a Simon Gillett grass-cutter, although Billy Sharp's attempted chip was much more comfortable. At the other end Sullivan was virtually unemployed.
Hesitation by Leon Barnett and a poor clearance by Drury allowed Wilson a shot – and that was much the way of it. Ruddy joined in with a poor clearance which ended with Sharp pushing a near post cross by Coppinger just past the post.
By then Lambert had switched back to something approaching the familiar diamond shape, although McNamee was well wide on the left, with Martin and Holt back together as an attacking pair.
Within five minutes it had helped City get their first effort on goal, Barnett heading into Sullivan's hands from McNamee's free-kick on the right. A low cross from the left had Sullivan scrambling to get to it before Holt – and City began to look a lot more comfortable.
There was still work to be done at the other end as Barnett did well to block a Sharp effort from 10 yards and Ruddy scrambled to his left to keep out yet another long-ranger from Coppinger.
Holt wasted a good opportunity to create something after picking up a slack pass by Oster, but City were looking better as the first half came to an end.
Hoolahan began to have an increasing influence, although a jinking run deserved better than a corner when Holt lost control of the ball. It was a tough 45 for City, but experience shows that when the chips are down, they all too often have a response.
Early shouts for a penalty after a Shelton Martis challenge on Hoolahan were ignored by Mr Ilderton and most parts of the ground – but within five minutes disaster struck again and City were 2-0 down. Woods played the ball wide left to Sharp whose shot was parried by Ruddy. Sharp picked up the pieces, played it across the area and with Ruddy out of position, Coppinger had the simple task of tapping it over the line.
Martin almost pulled one back immediately with a free-kick that Sullivan turned past his post and from McNamee's corner Andrew Crofts' brilliant header was blocked on the line. It was the response City needed given their precarious position, but the game was almost over as soon as the optimism had returned as Coppinger dribbled deep into City territory, with Ruddy pulling out of a save at his feet for fear of conceding a penalty, and then Woods forcing a good save.
Hoolahan almost created something out of nothing when he fed Martin after a mistake by Mustapha Dumbuya, but the striker hit the side netting from a difficult angle.
But on 65 minutes, City had a lifeline, Holt doing well on the left of the area to clip the ball in from a narrow angle and Russell Martin heading home from close range into an empty net.
City had had enjoyed the best possession of the half and drove forward in search of the equaliser. Holt and Smith joined forces in a rampaging surge which ended with an offside flag, but it was all City and this time the mistakes were beginning to creep in among the home ranks.
Hoolahan tried his luck from distance, but the swerve didn't fool Sullivan, while Ward miskicked Hoolahan's corner.
Holt's night's work was over with 10 minutes remaining – and City's evening went with it five minutes later when Coppinger grabbed his hat-trick, a free-kick taking a wicked deflection and looping over Ruddy.