Oxford United: James Roberts looks forward after bad times on and off pitch

Oxford United striker James Roberts
James Roberts last started a game for Oxford United in April 2016

James Roberts knows there is more to life than just football - despite earning his first professional contract and making his senior debut by the age of 18.

The Oxford United striker hopes his still fledgling career is on the comeback trail following testing times both on and off the pitch.

The 21-year-old, who netted a brace in an FA Cup win against Grimsby on his first-team debut in 2014, has had to battle through setbacks in football and his personal life to re-establish himself.

In October 2015, Roberts' younger brother Ben died aged just 16 when he was hit by a car in Buckinghamshire.

Ben's death also came during an injury-disrupted spell in Roberts' Oxford career, while several loans to non-league clubs also failed to fully revitalise his form or fitness.

"Times change," he told BBC Radio Oxford, as he spoke glowingly of the impact manager Pep Clotet has had on his confidence since arriving at the Kassam Stadium.

"I've had bad times of it outside of football and bad times of it inside football. People go through bad stages of it and people go through good stages.

"I had a purple patch when I first came on the scene and then I didn't."

Turning 'a bad stretch' into 'a good stretch'

That "purple patch" featured five goals in Roberts' first eight senior appearances. But the fifth of those, against Exeter City in January 2015, remains his last in an Oxford United shirt.

Loans to Chester, Oxford City twice, Barnet and Stalybridge have all followed since, but with only two goals to show for them.

While results on the pitch may not make great reading, Roberts insists on the training ground he has remained sharp both physically and mentally.

"As long as you can be mentally strong, keep your head up and keep believing in yourself, there's no reason you can't take a bad stretch and turn it into a good stretch," he said.

That self-belief has seen Roberts back in contention following two appearances for Oxford United in the Checkatrade Tophy and a return to league action off the bench in a win at Bristol Rovers.

"I've always had confidence in myself even when I wasn't scoring or playing so great," he added. "Thankfully, it seems to be paying off.

"My main goal is to play football and score goals for Oxford United. If it takes me going out on loan to do so and prove to the gaffer I can put the ball in the net, then that's what it takes.

"If he gives me a chance and I start scoring goals here, then that's what happens. Football's a game that changes very quickly and I like to think I can adapt very quickly."

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