While the 25-year-old had come off the bench to score against Crewe a week earlier, the game at the LNER Stadium was just Roberts’ second start for the Wearsiders since his January move from Manchester City.
Sunderland didn’t score at Lincoln but created more than enough chances to do so, with Roberts at the heart of his side’s best attacks. “He's a little magician, isn't he,” said Black Cats boss Alex Neil after the stalemate.
Roberts had featured in just two competitive matches in the first half of the season while on loan at French side Troyes, hence the reason it took a while for him to get back up to speed.
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The playmaker has still started just eight games for Sunderland, yet his winning goal in the League One play-off semi-finals against Sheffield Wednesday was priceless.
Just like in the first leg at the Stadium of Light, Neil set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Roberts on the right, Jack Clarke on the left and Alex Pritchard in a central position.
Some would have taken a more conservative approach away from home with their side a goal ahead on aggregate, yet Neil knew his team needed to carry a threat.
Roberts and Clarke certainly did that through their ability to run with the ball and help Sunderland advance up the pitch.
In total Roberts attempted 10 dribbles against Wednesday in the second leg, six of which were successful and all of which were in the opposition’s half.
Since signing for City as a teenager in 2015, the 25-year-old has been loaned out to Celtic, Girona, Norwich, Middlesbrough and Derby with varying degrees of success.
After initially impressing at Boro, then-manager Neil Warnock spoke about his reservations deploying Roberts on the flank, where the playmaker could be forced back into defensive areas which didn’t suit the attacker’s game.
Still, Neil had the confidence to stick with Roberts and Lynden Gooch on the right flank at Hillsborough, with the pair up against Wednesday wing-back Marvin Johnson.
Yet aside from the Owls’ goal, when Johnson ran onto Barry Bannan’s excellent pass before setting up Lee Gregory, Sunderland looked secure on that flank.
At the start of the second half, while Wednesday were still a goal down in the tie, it was Sunderland who played on the front foot.
The visitors were able to retain possession in attacking areas of the pitch where the likes of Roberts and Clarke could flourish. While the atmosphere inside Hillsborough was electric, there was a sense the home fans were growing frustrated with 20 minutes remaining.
That changed when Gregory’s finish drew The Owls level. Hillsborough was bouncing, Sunderland were on the ropes.
Yet while the Black Cats’ defenders stood their ground at one end, the side’s attacking players kept their cool when the opportunity came.
In front of the travelling away fans high in the Leppings Lane End, it was Roberts who provided the decisive moment.