Football: Roberts happy to revive troubled Rovers

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The Independent Online
GARETH ROBERTS stands on the brink of a Wembley cup final just months after being dumped by Liverpool and abandoning a career in Greece.

The winger Andy Parkinson - also ex-Liverpool - grabbed glory with his wonder goal to send Tranmere past Middlesbrough into the Worthington Cup semi-finals on Tuesday.

Wrexham-born Roberts had as much reason as anyone to celebrate, though, as he reflected on the troubled six-months he spent abroad before establishing himself in John Aldridge's blossoming side.

The Wales Under-21 full-back has been the key to Rovers' dramatic change of fortune this season, culminating in a sensational cup double over the Premiership sides West Ham and now Boro in four memorable days for the cash-strapped Birkenhead club.

Roberts was outstanding against the Hammers in the FA Cup and again on Tuesday to set up Tranmere's meeting with Bolton next month.

"I'm just pleased that I am back in England and getting a chance of playing first-team football," he said. It is a far cry from how he felt in January when his Liverpool career ended with a pounds 50,000 move to the Greek club Panionios.

It was the end of his Anfield dream and the Greek adventure came to an end soon afterwards, leaving Roberts on his way back to Merseyside in the summer - this time on the other side of the river.

After Tuesday's 2-1 win Roberts said: "It's all started to go nicely for me.

"Leaving Liverpool was a wrench and the Greek move didn't really work out. But now I'm back here and what has happened to me since I arrived has been tremendous.

"All I wanted to do after the move was get back home and find myself another club to get playing again, and it's working out just fine.

"I left Liverpool because I was only playing in the reserves and there was no chance of getting into the first team. I outgrew it, really.

"The move to Greece came up so I took it. In hindsight, going out there was a mistake. But you learn from experience and I did have a few months involved in a different style of football and even played in a European competition."

Roberts played 15 league games for the Athens club - and also in a European Cup-Winners' Cup tie against Lazio.

"That certainly gave me a taste of the big time and I enjoyed playing against them. It was tremendous," he said.

With Mark Hughes expected to be confirmed as the Wales manager soon, Roberts could not have picked a better time to resurrect his career. The move abroad cost him a place in the Under-21 squad last year, so if he continues his current improvement Hughes is sure to be interested.

"Obviously that will be up to Mark. Of course it's my ambition to win a full cap, but I just have to keep doing well and playing my best," he said.

Roberts was just one of a team of players who have given the club, recently on the brink of bankruptcy, the chance of a first-ever major cup final. Rovers have won their last eight home games and risen from bottom to 13th in the league - if they continue that form they are in with a chance of the First Division play-offs. Manager Aldridge said: "Results like these mean that I have a better chance of keeping my best players.

"If people want them now they will have to dig really deep - and if we get to Wembley maybe I will actually have some money to spend."

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