Rotherham United: Dale Tonge interview

Come season's end, Rotherham United might – just might – look back at their last-gasp midweek point against Stockport at Edgeley Park as a seminal moment in their 2010-11 campaign.

And one player certainly hopes that he will.

Namely full-back Dale Tonge, who after the best part of 15 months on

the sidelines, finally negotiated a huge physical and psychological hurdle in the 3-3 come-from-behind draw at League Two strugglers County.

The former Barnsley player has seen more of the treatment room than he can care to mention since November 2009, with the following year basically one endless bout of rehabilitation work.

But a new year brings new hope and after just two first-team starts in a write-off of a year in 2010, Tonge – whose injury woe kicked in when he broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot in the 2-1 win at Port Vale on November 14, 2009 – has ushered in 2011 with back-to-back 90-minute appearances against County and Macclesfield Town.

While the relief was palpable on Tuesday after two goals in the final six minutes saw the Millers claw back a two-goal deficit to draw, Tonge – who has stepped in for injured loan defender Danny Coid – had extra reason to be grateful.

The 25-year-old said: "Touch wood, I'm pain free and that's the first time since October 2009 that I can say that.

"To come out of games with no pain is fantastic.

"It was funny as I spoke to the physio (Denis Circuit) after Tuesday's game. It was just general chit-chat and I said to him: 'You know what the best thing is? it was that I hadn't actually felt my foot (injury) for the first time in a long while'.

"This can only be a good thing as you don't want to be thinking about stuff like that when you go into tackles."

Tonge added: "For me, playing back-to-back games is great. All I can do is look at it positively and I'm only going to get fitter, stronger and better. Long may it continue.

"Obviously, it's a bad thing for Coidy and I think there's a bit of uncertainty about what is happening with his foot. But it's another person's gain."

Tonge's safe negotiation of the last two games also represents a big vindication to boss Ronnie Moore, pictured left, and his staff, whose decision to adopt a "softly-softly" approach with the defender – to avoid him breaking down again – seems to have paid off, touch wood.

It's something that Tonge – who headed across the Dearne Valley from Barnsley to Rotherham in the summer of 2007 – is grateful for and he is keen to pay Moore and co back in kind between now and May, while doing himself a few favours in the process.

The clock is ticking regarding Tonge's future, with his contract expiring in June and he is desperate to make up for lost time to help to earn himself a new deal, while playing his part in securing promotion for the Millers.

Tonge, on the sidelines for last year's League Two play-off final against Dagenham & Redbridge at Wembley, said: "It was just one knock-back after the other and just awful in 2010.

"Hopefully now, it's a new year and a new beginning and I can help the team to get promoted.

"I'm also out of contract in the summer and I think a few others are as well, so we're playing for our futures as well.

"The gaffer has looked after me and it's something I appreciate. When you have been out for as long as I have, you want to get back in and perhaps earlier than you should do.

"But he held me back and looked after me and the week before I played (for the first team), I actually got a game in before.

"In fairness, what he did has been proved right."

Tuesday's point may not have been what the upwardly-mobile Millers were looking for at the first whistle, but by the end, they were grateful for small mercies.

Victory would have put the Millers within two points of near-neighbours and leaders Chesterfield, but the point at least extended their unbeaten sequence to eight games, ahead of this weekend's action against Southend with Moore's troops just pleased to head back across the Pennines with something following a tougher-than-expected night.

On the point at Stockport, who were hammered 5-1 at home by Gillingham on Saturday and with criticism still ringing in their ears ahead of Tuesday's clash, Tonge said: "We didn't play well and the gaffer said afterwards that we had got out of jail.

"All you can look at it is in a positive way and at the end of the season, it could be a massive point.

"Maybe last year we would have lost that game and gone down without a fight. But this season, we've got a steely determination about us as a whole team and squad and that's helped.

"When teams are struggling, you need to get the first goal and with them scoring first it gave them confidence. It ended up being a difficult night, but we got something out of it."

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