Paul Cook: Time for Pompey's big-game player

Paul Cook will tonight unleash his '˜big-game player' to inspire Pompey's Wembley bid.

Gary Roberts. Picture: Joe Pepler
Gary Roberts. Picture: Joe Pepler

Gary Roberts has been involved in play-off and promotion pushes in each of his last seven campaigns.

On six of those occasions his clubs reached the play-offs, while in 2013-14 Chesterfield won the League Two title.

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It is a remarkable record which reflects the creative midfielder’s winning calibre.

Roberts has been hampered by injuries during a maiden Blues season but has now strung together a settled period in Cook’s side.

He will again be in the starting line-up against Plymouth at a sold-out Fratton Park tonight (7.45pm).

And Pompey are looking for the 32-year-old to be the catalyst to safely negotiating the League Two semi-finals.

Cook said: ‘Gary is one of those lads that when you look on your pitch you know you have someone who can win you the game.

‘You can go back to Yeovil away, Gary produced a moment of magic to get us a point when we didn’t deserve one. We had been on our knees the whole game.

‘That is what you buy big players for and we haven’t had enough of him.

‘Without a shadow of a doubt, this year we haven’t had enough of him.

‘He is probably having the best run he has had for a bit, touch wood, and is such an important part of what we do.

‘You expect him to turn up tonight. I am not foolish enough to say “watch Gary Roberts”. It doesn’t happen.

‘But games don’t faze Gary, he is what we call a big-game player. Hopefully he turns up tonight.

‘If he doesn’t it won’t be for want of trying, that is why you sign people like Gary.

‘At Chesterfield he scored us the goal against Fleetwood to win us the League Two title. He will forever take that responsibility on.’

Kyle Bennett, Marc McNulty and Matt Clarke have all returned to training to boost Pompey’s options.

Cook will also recall Danny Hollands, Michael Doyle, Enda Stevens and Christian Burgess to his team after they were rested against Northampton.

It promises to be a fascinating evening under lights at Fratton Park, always a magical affair.

The Pilgrims left clutching a 2-1 victory only last month to effectively end Pompey’s hopes of automatic promotion.

Now they are back for the first leg of the play-offs – the return encounter taking place on Sunday.

And Cook is urging creativity.

He added: ‘We have to have players on the pitch who when we need them they turn up.

‘Looking back on the season, we haven’t had enough game-changers. I’m criticising myself, I always believed the squad was good enough to get us up.

‘Instead it was good enough to get us in the play-offs.’