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One-on-One: Michael Tonge

14 December 2012

Ahead of the remaining Round 5 tie, we catch up with Leeds United's Michael Tonge

Just shy of a decade ago, Michael Tonge scored twice for Sheffield United against Liverpool in a League Cup semi-final. This week, the on-loan Leeds United star takes on Chelsea in a bid to reach the last four with the Elland Road outfit.

Hi Michael, how excited are the Leeds United players about tackling the European champions? 

Ever since the draw was made we've been counting down the days, really looking forward to the challenge. It's a huge game for the club, and for the fans, and as players we've taken heart from the way Bradford City performed against Arsenal. 

Has Bradford City's success given you more belief that another Capital One Cup shock is possible then?

Yes I do. I think we're all feeling a bit more confident having seen what an npower League 2 side is capable of achieving against one of the tournament favourites. A number of factors will have to go our way if we're to stand any chance; first of all we have to perform to our best, we also need Chelsea to have an off day, miss a few chances and get frustrated. In these cup ties every giant killer needs some rub of the green at crucial moments but the most important aspect that's in our control is to take that good goalscoring opportunity when it comes our way. Then, we know we will have to defend well.
 
This is your fifth successive home draw in this season's competition - a lucky omen?

We're very much hoping it will be another lucky omen. Since I arrived on loan we've beaten Everton and Southampton in front of our home fans, and we'd love to make it three Premier League scalps in a row. I think those two performances in the Capital One Cup were the best we've produced all season. To be honest, we seem to play better against the top sides in the npower Championship too. Maybe the challenge of causing an upset brings the best out of our side. 

Of Chelsea's galaxy of stars, who are you most looking forward to facing?

I really admire Eden Hazard and Oscar as players. They have so much quality, and even though they are top footballers already, I think they're on their way to being recognised as truly world class. If I'm being totally honest, I hope that neither of them play at Elland Road, though.

Would you prefer it if Rafa Benitez opted to rest a few big players then?

You can always hope that your opponents aren't at full strength but we're not fussed really. The bottom line is that we need to make sure we are at it, and ready for a battle with whoever Chelsea put out. Even if the likes of Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Hazard and Oscar are missing, they still have lads like Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses to come in, so we know it's going to be very, very tough. 

Does Chelsea's involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup give Leeds United an advantage?

I reckon the players will be a bit jet-lagged from the trip, so I have to say yes. Japan is a fair old trek, and it's an awful lot of travelling for them with very little time to recover and prepare for their match with us. I'm biased of course, so I'm very much hoping that Rafa Benitez's squad turn up at Elland Road feeling really tired.

Have you dared to dream of reaching the final at Wembley yet?

No, we daren't do that just yet. We're facing the Capital One Cup favourites so there's no way we can look beyond this tie. The three teams who have made it through are all deserving semi-finalists that will provide stiff opposition but it would silly of us to look past Chelsea. 

How does it feel to be a Leeds United player?

I'm enjoying my loan spell here so much. It hasn't worked out for me at Stoke City so it's just great to be playing again. I've played with a lot of former Leeds players in the past and they've always said it was a great club, and now I know that they were telling the truth. The set-up is fantastic, the fan base is unbelievable and everything is done properly here. It really is a great club. The only downside is that I'm asked to get shirts signed for people almost every day of the week.

And you've been reunited with your former Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock, how's that been?

It's been nice to work with the manager again after all those years. He's more experienced now of course, and has definitely moved with the times and developed as a coach but as a person he's still the same character. The passion, hunger and desire to succeed in football is just as high as it always was. 

Leeds' form has fluctuated, why has that happened?

It's been a strange season so far because we seem to go in blocks of form. We'll win three in a row, and then go a few matches without tasting success at all. We can't really explain it. What I will say is that there are so many matches in the npower Championship that it's impossible to go into every fixture with a fully fit squad. If you have a few players struggling with knocks, any team at this level can turn you over. Simply because of the schedule it's very hard to string together long unbeaten runs. 

What are your memories of the 2003 League Cup semi-final against Liverpool?

Don't remind me. I can't believe it's been 10 years as the time has seriously flown by. Back then I was a youngster making my way and the cup run we enjoyed with Sheffield United was unbelievable. That season we were drawn at home in every round and made the semis of both cup competitions, so I hope history is about to repeat itself with Leeds. Scoring two goals in the first leg against Liverpool was one of the highlights of my career and a time I'll never forget. The problem I had was that I wasn't experienced, so I thought that kind of glory was the norm. I've since found out it isn't, and I look back and wonder if it would have been better had I been older and wiser. If I had of been I'd have appreciated the experience more and taken it all in. I took it all for granted back then. 

Where do you think your future lies?

I'd love to stay on at Leeds United beyond this loan spell. It's due to end before Christmas and I haven't had confirmation on what's going to happen next. Tony Pulis has been great with me, and always helps me to find new places to play on loan, but sooner or later I would like to settle down. Not knowing how long you will be with a club isn't easy, and I don't really like being in no man's land. My ideal scenario would be to stay at Leeds for the rest of the season, so let's see what happens. 

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