FOR all that he scored two goals against Preston on Tuesday night, it is safe to say Lee Tomlin has not developed a reputation as a cup specialist just yet.
The forward’s second-half brace might have helped Middlesbrough secure a place in the third round of the Capital One Cup, but that remains as far as he has gone in either of the two major knockout competitions during a nine-year career that encompassed Rushden & Diamonds and Peterborough United before he moved to the North-East in January.
The high point of his cup experiences to date was the run that took Peterborough to the third round of the FA Cup in 2010-11, but that hardly ended successfully as Posh crashed to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of Fulham. Tomlin might have scored at Craven Cottage, but it was hardly a red-letter day.
All of which makes the 25-year-old even more determined not to pass up the opportunity of an extended run in the Capital One Cup now that Boro have seen off Oldham Athletic and Preston in the opening two rounds of the competition. There is a long way to go yet, but try telling Tomlin that the League Cup is of little or no interest when posited against the league.
“I’ve never really had a good cup run, but I think we could do that here,” he said. “Peterborough always had to enter the FA Cup right at the start, so the best I’ve probably done is getting to the third round of that. I remember doing that one year, but then we got Fulham away and conceded six so that’s not exactly a great memory.
“Getting a bit of a cup run going was one of the things I was looking forward to when I joined Middlesbrough. No disrespect to Peterborough, but this is a much bigger club with much better players. It’s set up to do well and that excites me. I really want to do a lot of things here because I know we can, and a cup run is definitely part of that.”
In the past, the thought of a Championship club going all the way to Wembley would have been scoffed at, but recent seasons have witnessed a number of lower-league clubs making a major impact in the League Cup.
League Two Bradford City are the best example of a lower-league club repeatedly triumphing against the odds, even if they were eventually well beaten by Swansea City in the 2013 final, but Cardiff City were also in the Football League when they took Liverpool all the way to penalties at Wembley in 2012.
Those achievements are partly a reflection of the often-ignored strength of the Football League, but they also highlight the bigger clubs’ continued tendency to play weakened line-ups in the Capital One Cup.
“You only have to look at the Man United result at MK Dons to see that strange things can happen in the League Cup,” said Tomlin. “A lot of the bigger clubs tend to rest their players no matter who they’re playing against or what round of the competition it is, so that always means there’s a chance of an upset.
“If you can keep going through the rounds, you never know what might happen, and it’s probably easier to do that in this cup than the FA Cup.”
If Boro are to continue progressing through the League Cup rounds, Tomlin is likely to be a pivotal figure given that he is Aitor Karanka’s preferred choice to fill the crucial attacking midfield role behind a lone centre-forward.
By his own admission, it took the East Midlander a month or two to settle after he made a £1.5m move at the start of the year, but his form towards the end of last season was impressive, culminating in a fantastic display at Yeovil on the final day of the campaign.
He has carried that form into this season, with his opening-day display against Birmingham catching the eye and his second-half performance on Tuesday effectively deciding things in Boro’s favour.
“If I’m honest, it probably took me a while to get going when i joined at the start of the year,” he admitted. “But I’m glad I came in January because I had those months until the end of the season to get used to things and adapt.
“I came back for pre-season in great condition and couldn’t wait to get going. There’s been some changes and some new lads have arrived and had to get to used to how things are here, but I had all that last season so I didn’t have to go through it all again. I feel like I’ve just been able to concentrate on my football this summer.”