The main actor ready to take centre stage for Pompey

The weight of being a '˜main actor' sits comfortably on Gary Roberts' shoulders.

Thursday, 10th March 2016, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:31 pm
Pompey playmaker Gary Roberts Picture: Joe Pepler

It’s been enough to consume a host of his predecessors, when it comes to taking on the expectation of wearing the star and crescent on your chest in the fourth tier of English football.

But the role of Roberts is moving to the fore at a crucial time. People are beginning to see the marquee signing Pompey invested in.

And there is little doubt his presence can have a defining role in how his team’s season pans out.

Roberts had no hesitation in billing the Blues’ trip to Accrington Stanley as the ‘biggest’ of the season.

The trend these days is for players to dampen the flames when the heat gets turned up. It fuels Roberts’ fire.

The 31-year-old revels in pressure cooker situations, and isn’t afraid of telling a situation exactly how it is.

That’s been seen off the pitch in the recent days, as he gave ample evidence on it of what he’s all about.

Make no mistake, this is Pompey’s talisman.

It’s taken around 150 minutes of Roberts returning to his side’s starting XI to underline that.

Stevenage, on Saturday, wasn’t pretty. But it was the Scouser’s quality which raised the level. It was the schemer bringing back the identity Paul Cook craved.

One moment, of course, underlined that.

If we were all left pinching ourselves at Roberts’ perfectly-timed tackle on Lee Cox, that soon turned to purring over the weight of the defence-splitting pass to McNulty. The Scot didn’t need to break stride to slot home his 10th of the season.

On a sticky surface, this was a mercurial talent sprinkling his craft on a League Two battle and elevating it from its standing.

Three days later, he took a top-of-the-table clash and held it in the palm of his hand.

You have to go back to Pompey’s Premier League pomp for the last time they so irresistibly ripped apart a significant rival.

Cook’s side dismantled Accrington with a display of verve and freedom which had to be admired in such a high-stakes situation.

All the while, Roberts was the puppeteer pulling the strings.

The man plucked off a Sunday parks pitch by Cook teased and toyed with his former side.

He probed and prodded, taking the hits and driving his opponents to distraction along the way.

Within 43 minutes the match was over. It may not have been Roberts taking the glory, but the discerning eye knew who the architect of Accrington’s downfall was.

And there were enough of them among a Crown Ground crowd of 1,841 to afford Roberts an ovation from all four sides after 77 minutes on Tuesday night. It wasn’t Paul Merson at Millwall, but we’re heading down the same road.

The frustration for him is that hasn’t been the case for much of the season. Injuries have stunted his Pompey growth, and his willingness to play through the pain has hurt his standing.

It’s been half of the real Gary Roberts you’ve been watching for much of the campaign.

Roberts played on for too long after picking up his ankle injury against Barnet in October.

There were six further games before Cook withdrew him from the firing line, for the two months of recovery the injury warranted.

Even in recent fixtures his participation has been a risk. It was one which backfired at Barnet, as he lasted eight minutes. At Stevenage and Stanley it spectacularly paid off.

The fact he’s willing to put his body on the line speaks volumes of Roberts’ character.

Many before him would’ve eschewed such physical challenges.

But even through his fragmented Pompey career to date, the stats make for reasonable viewing.

Eight goals and three assists have arrived from 21 starts – a combined total beaten only by Kyle Bennett (four goals and nine assists) and Marc McNulty (10 goals and seven assists).

Roberts will demand more of himself, however. The standards are high and so are the stakes.

This, of course, was the man who accepted the mantle of Pompey’s marquee signing last summer.

‘I want to be the star man in every game,’ Roberts said. ‘I want to be the main actor, the leader. There’s no hiding from that. I won’t shirk that responsibility.’

With 11 games to go, and the automatic promotion bid sparked to life again, Pompey are seeing that player.