Roberts relishes Reading's rise
Jason Roberts made the best start of any player in the history of Reading football club when he signed from Blackburn Rovers in January, winning eight straight games.
He scored three goals in his first four matches and his arrival added new impetus to a team that had already cast aside their mediocre early-season form and started to charge up the Championship table.
He slotted straight in and formed an instant rapport with fellow forward Noel Hunt, whose form improved playing alongside Roberts. Striker Simon Church had waited patiently for his chance most of last season and must have thought his time had come once Shane Long was sold to West Brom in the summer. Church found himself back on the bench after the arrival of Roberts but has been fulsome in his praise of the veteran forward and his impact at the club.
"He has been a catalyst to really kick us on," said Church. "He is the nicest guy ever."
Roberts has been in good form since his January move to Reading. Photo - Getty images
It was a particularly poor result given that the Royals face a season-defining set of fixtures. Starting with Blackpool on Saturday, they play the teams in fifth, third, 10th, fourth and first. But if Roberts is harbouring any secret fears about the coming month he is keeping them very much to himself.
"It is exciting. This is where you want to be - trying to make things happen," said the 34-year-old. "These are the moments when you really find out about yourself."
If Reading needed any further motivation beyond the carrot of promotion after a four-year absence from the top flight, then there is the disappointment of last season. While Roberts ended the 2010-11 campaign celebrating a final-day win at Wolves that guaranteed Rovers' Premier League survival, the Royals lost the Championship play-off final, an exhilarating late-season surge brought to an abrupt end with a 4-2 defeat against Swansea at Wembley.
"There is no doubt that last season is a motivating factor for the squad," added Roberts. "I was part of a West Brom team that lost a semi-final against Bolton in 2000-01 and we went on to get promotion the following season.
"I can sense the same thing here - a determination to go one better."
Reading might have to negotiate the next few weeks without Roberts but the Grenada striker has seen enough to realise that manager Brian McDermott has assembled a squad equipped to cope with the loss of any individual.
"The manager is very particular about the personalities he brings in. Forget about their obvious quality as players, they are all good people and really motivated, and that is not always the case in a big squad," added Roberts. "His man-management is outstanding."
And according to the veteran striker, McDermott has clearly take on board the observation made years ago by legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly that football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better.
"Reading play 4-4-2 every week and try to win every single game," explained Roberts.
"Some clubs changes formation to counteract the opposition, packing the midfield, whereas we play with two wingers every week who look to supply the front two.
"It might be old school but it is very exciting. When I look around the leagues I do not see many other teams doing that but it is exactly how I understand football to be played."
Roberts does not say so explicitly but it is clear he feels some managers over-complicate their planning, tweaking the formation so often that they confuse their own players. That is not a problem at Reading, where every players knows what is expected of them every single week. During the final weeks of the season, under extreme pressure, this clarity of thought can only be an asset.
They have plenty of experience in the likes of Adam Federici, Ian Harte, Kaspars Gorkss, Mikele Leigertwood, Hayden Mullins and Jobi McAnuff. And even though they lost at Posh they created numerous chances and do not seem to have hit a creative wall like West Ham, who have drawn their last four matches 1-1.
However, if anyone at the Madejski Stadium did need any further encouragement to succeed over the next eight weeks, they could do a lot worse than ask Roberts about his time at Wigan.
The striker was in the Latics side that defeated Reading 3-1 on the final day of the 2004-05 season to win promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club's 73-year history.
A few weeks ago he was back at the DW Stadium and was struck by the number of photographs still hanging there of that promotion-winning team.
"They were some of the happiest days of my life," said Roberts.
"Fans never forget a team that achieves something like that, something really special. In years to come when I go back to Reading I would like to be remembered for leaving a mark on the club. "