AFTER the final day of last season, Liam Roberts thought he had experienced the biggest shock football could muster. Playing for a Northampton Town team that looked certain to win automatic promotion from League Two, Roberts was left heartbroken when Bristol Rovers’ remarkable 7-0 win over Scunthorpe condemned the Cobblers to the play-offs. Surely, nothing could top that in terms of taking him by surprise?

Fast forward a month or so from that final-day drama, though, and Roberts was pinching himself again. This time, he was lying on a beach on a Greek island, soaking up the sun, when his phone began to ring. With his agent on the other end of the call, the 27-year-old received the surprise news that Middlesbrough wanted to sign him. Suddenly, instead of relaxing by the pool on the final few days of his holiday, he found himself frantically checking flight times to see if he could make it to Teesside any sooner.

“It was a totally surreal moment,” said Roberts, who had held off signing a new deal with Northampton in the hope that a club from a higher division would come calling. “I was on holiday, I learned of Boro’s interest, and I just wanted to get home.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call. Before going out on holiday, I hadn’t really heard anything, to be honest. Obviously, you see rumours and stuff, but I’d not really heard anything about myself on the grapevine.

“As soon as I got off that phone call though, we were literally straight on looking for flights to get home early. I think I still had two or three days left, but all I was thinking was, ‘I need to get back early’. It’s just incredible to be here and I can’t wait to get going now.”

Roberts’ performances in League Two last season earned him his move to Middlesbrough, with his 21 clean sheets earning him a place in the PFA’s League Two Team of the Season.

He was widely acknowledged to be the best goalkeeper in the fourth tier, but thanks to one of the most dramatic turnarounds in footballing history, his efforts were insufficient to secure Northampton a place in League One.

Heading into the final day of the campaign, the Cobblers boasted a five-goal advantage over Bristol Rovers. They did their bit, winning 3-1 at Barrow, but Bristol Rovers’ seven-goal thrashing of a depleted Scunthorpe side enabled them to climb into the final automatic-promotion place on goals scored. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their obvious disappointment, Northampton then went on to lose to Mansfield Town in the play-off semi-finals.

“It was a crazy season,” said Roberts. “That final day was literally football in a nutshell. I remember sitting in the changing rooms after and just thinking, ‘How has that happened?’.

“At half-time, we were 3-1 up and they were like 2-0 up. You’re concentrating on the game, but in the corner of your eye you can sort of sense from the fans that something is happening.

“So, it’s 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 and then the seventh goal goes in and all the Barrow fans start celebrating and you just know what’s happening then. It’s one of them, what can you do?

“I don’t think we could have done much else, and I like to think I did everything I could to try to get the club promoted. I remember sitting at the awards evening afterwards, and they were reeling off these awards for me, and it was just incredible. It was a privilege to win those awards. But that was in the past and now I’m looking to the future and the opportunity I’ve got here.”

Roberts will get an early opportunity to impress in pre-season, although Boro’s desire to bring in another, more experienced, goalkeeper this summer is likely to see him starting on the bench when the real action begins at the end of July.

He accepts he faces a battle to try to carve out a place in Chris Wilder’s preferred starting side, but is adamant he has not moved to Middlesbrough simply to sit amongst the substitutes.

“This is about proving myself and establishing myself at this level,” he said. “Obviously, last year, I did that in a lower league, now this is a big jump personally and I’m here to prove that I want to play as many games as I can.

“I am ready to fight for that position. I know it will be a fight, but that’s not just me, that’s every player that’s here at the club. We’ve quite a tight-knit squad and they’ve all welcomed me to the club, we have high ambitions as a club, and that means that every player is going to have to fight to earn their place in the team.”