Former Doncaster and Tranmere Rovers favourite Gareth Roberts sitting on fence ahead of clash

Former Doncaster and Tranmere Rovers favourite Gareth Roberts admits he will be torn when his old clubs meet this weekend.
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Roberts spent sevens seasons at Prenton Park before switching to the Eco-Power Stadium – then named the Keepmoat – where he spent four very successful years from 2006 to 2010.

He will be a special guest of Doncaster on Saturday, but normally spends matchdays providing co-commentary for Tranmere’s iFollow service.

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“I’ve probably watched most of Tranmere’s games this season, but I’ll have to sit on the fence,” he says looking ahead to the clash.

Gareth Roberts battles Geovani Dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur during a Carling Cup clash at the Keepmoat Stadium in 2009 (photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).Gareth Roberts battles Geovani Dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur during a Carling Cup clash at the Keepmoat Stadium in 2009 (photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).
Gareth Roberts battles Geovani Dos Santos of Tottenham Hotspur during a Carling Cup clash at the Keepmoat Stadium in 2009 (photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

"It will be a good day.”

Roberts watched Tranmere end a 10-game winless run with a 3-0 win over Doncaster on Boxing Day.

Since then Micky Mellon’s side has won one, drawn two and lost one.

"They’ve had spells where they have done really well and they have conceded some sloppy goals, like most teams,” says Roberts, who now fits bathrooms during the week.

Roberts and his Doncaster Rovers teammates celebrate victory in the 2008 League One play-off final against Leeds United (photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).Roberts and his Doncaster Rovers teammates celebrate victory in the 2008 League One play-off final against Leeds United (photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).
Roberts and his Doncaster Rovers teammates celebrate victory in the 2008 League One play-off final against Leeds United (photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images).
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"They are probably just lacking in the final third. I would say they are really strong at the back, but they have just sold their goalkeeper to Forest Green.

"They are desperate for a body up front. I think they have been after quite a few, but Micky said he won’t just take the first one.”

Tranmere have added Dundee United winger Logan Chalmers and Port Vale midfielder Brad Walker to their squad this month.

Following arguably their worst performance of the season on Boxing Day, Doncaster quickly put the disappointment behind them and won their next two games.

Roberts goes head-to-head against his former Doncaster Rovers teammate Paul Green, then of Derby County (photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).Roberts goes head-to-head against his former Doncaster Rovers teammate Paul Green, then of Derby County (photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).
Roberts goes head-to-head against his former Doncaster Rovers teammate Paul Green, then of Derby County (photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).
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That mini-run included perhaps their best performance this term in the 2-1 win over Carlisle United on New Year’s Day.

They were beaten 1-0 by league leaders Leyton Orient last time out and could hand a debut to winger Todd Miller, who has joined on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, this weekend.

“I was disappointed with them on Boxing Day,” says Roberts.

"Apart from maybe the first three or four minutes, when I thought ‘wow, Doncaster look really good, bright sharp’, they just faded.

Manchester United's Fraizer Campbell clashes with Gareth Roberts during a pre-season friendly in 2007 (photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images).Manchester United's Fraizer Campbell clashes with Gareth Roberts during a pre-season friendly in 2007 (photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images).
Manchester United's Fraizer Campbell clashes with Gareth Roberts during a pre-season friendly in 2007 (photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images).

"A new manager has come in and Greeny (Paul Green, first-team transition coach) is new to it. They are probably finding their feet with the squad.

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"I thought they looked very samey, even the subs didn’t bring change. When Sean (O'Driscoll) was there everybody was different.

"Sometimes you needed a big guy like Mark McCammon, or a little guy like Copps (James Coppinger).”

How difficult will it be for Doncaster to reverse the scoreline in the space of just 26 days, then? Will Tranmere boast the upper hand mentally?

"I don’t think there will be any advantage,” says Roberts, who made almost 500 competitive appearances for both clubs combined.

"It will make Doncaster want to win it even more.

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"They will know what they are up against. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tranmere play with the same XI as Saturday, which won’t be far off the team that played on Boxing Day.

"You know how they are going to hurt you.

"Doncaster will just be more determined to put a better performance on. They will be looking to rectify that (the defeat) and put it right.”

Roberts holds plenty of fond memories with both Tranmere and Doncaster, from cup runs and Premier League scalps to promotion to the Championship and a best-placed finish for more than 50 years.

"The biggest and hardest decision I ever made was to leave Tranmere to go to Doncaster,” he says.

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"It was a massive change in my life, moving away and making my wife quit her job.

"I remember going down the M62, I think I nearly turned around two or three times. I had Tranmere on the phone offering me a three-year deal with a testimonial.

"I met Mickey Walker (then director of football) at the ground then we went to (former Doncaster chairman) John Ryan’s office not far away, looking over the water.

"We sat down and he was talking about what he wanted to achieve, he was desperate to get to the Championship and spending money like there was no tomorrow.

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"It was a tough call, even before I signed the contract I was thinking ‘is this the right thing to do?’.”

It didn’t take long for Roberts’ decision to pay off as he became an integral part of a golden era under O’Driscoll and Ryan.

"When Sean came in everything changed,” he recalls.

"It was a massive change, it took a while to build it but with the players he was bringing in there was money there to go and win promotion.”

That moment came at the end of the 2007/08 season and was sealed with a famous win over Leeds United in the play-off final.

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"We had to beat Cheltenham on the final day but they absolutely battered us,” says Roberts, who would later join Derby County.

"Everyone was gutted, then Sean comes in with a big smile on his face and says ‘we will beat Leeds in the final’. It got everyone up again.

"We smashed Southend 5-1 (in the semi-final second leg), that was a great day. It should have been more than 1-0 in the final.

"Working under Sean improved me as a player, even at 32 I had my best season playing.”

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While living in Bawtry Roberts and his wife Nicky became parents to Gracie, now 15, and Max, 13.

“I have some really good memories there,” he adds.

"John Ryan was probably the focal point of everyone going there with all the money he put in and that fantastic appointment of Sean.

"The whole squad from one to 18, if you took someone out the replacement wouldn’t weaken the team.

"You had to perform every day in training to be picked on a Saturday. If you didn’t, he wouldn’t pick you. Sean was quite stubborn.

"I was lucky to be a part of it.”