AS Crystal Palace were pulling off the biggest giant-killing of the season at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, Corry Evans was driving back along the M62 towards Hull.
The Hull City midfielder had taken advantage of a day off to make a flying visit to Manchester, a city where he spent his entire teenage years after the Evans family moved across the Irish Sea from Belfast to allow his elder brother Jonny to sign schoolboy forms with United at the age of 15. Corry listened to snippets of the game on the radio and was hugely disappointed for his former club, not least because Jonny was in the team as Palace claimed an unexpected place in the Carling Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win at the home of the Premier League champions.
Had things worked out differently, the Northern Ireland international realised during that drive across the Pennines, he would more than likely have been in the United line-up and making a first appearance for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
It wasn’t, however, a possibility that Evans dwelt on, mainly because of how much he is enjoying life at Hull City after making his initial loan switch from the Red Devils permanent last summer.
“I am so pleased that Hull gave me a chance,” said the 21-year-old, who will today be reunited with the manager that signed him for the Tigers when Nigel Pearson returns to the KC Stadium in charge of Leicester City. “The Championship is a great place to learn your football. It is much better to be playing every week and Hull are a great club. Our team is going forward and we are only going to get better, so it is great to be part of that.
“If I hadn’t got the move to Hull last season, I would probably still be at Old Trafford. My contract was up at the end of last season but I would probably have signed for another year or maybe even a couple.
“If that had been the case then I might have gone out on loan or I might still be at Old Trafford, I don’t know. I might have been involved against Palace. I was often on the bench in the Carling Cup games, though I never got the chance to get on.
“I didn’t see the Palace game as I was travelling across from Manchester but I did think if I’d still been at United then I would more than likely have played. It would have been good to play for United but I am so pleased that Hull and Nigel Pearson gave me a chance here as this is a great place to play my football.”
Pearson, of course, will be the main focus of today’s tale of two Citys as he makes a return to the KC Stadium just 18 days after walking out on the Tigers.
The 46-year-old’s desire to rejoin Leicester took many at the Yorkshire club by surprise, not least as when the speculation about possible interest from the Foxes first arose he told the media how “irritating” the matter had become.
Following his acrimonious departure, Hull moved quickly to appoint Nick Barmby as caretaker manager with a view to him taking over permanently in time.
Pearson’s influence, however, remains strong in the East Riding with 12 of the 13 players on duty at Southampton in midweek having been signed by the Leicester manager – Tom Cairney being the exception due to having come through the club’s youth set-up.
Evans was one of those signings and he is in no doubt as to the debt he owes Pearson.
“I would always thank him for giving me the chance to come and play at Hull City,” said the 21-year-old. “There are not too many managers in the Championship who would do that.
“Maybe it was the budget he had, as he didn’t have much money to spend. But he put his faith in me. I feel I have improved as a player and as a person for that. My career could have gone very differently if I had stuck around at Manchester United.
“It can be difficult to get loans sometimes because some managers tend to go for experience over ability in the Championship. I will always hold my hands up and say “thanks” because he’s helped my career hugely.
“Having said that, a lot of the players will be looking to prove a point as if to say ‘you should have stuck with us’ instead of going to a club with bigger resources and a bigger squad.”
Asked if he was surprised by Pearson’s decision to leave, Evans added: “Nigel would be the only person to answer why he left as it was his decision.
“Good luck to him if he does well at Leicester but the team he has left here is going in the right direction. We are in a very strong position. We will be looking to win against Leicester to keep things going. Hopefully, now we have got Nick Barmby, he can take us on to the next level and improve us going forward. We want to be a real threat in this league. The experience of losing a manager was new to me and new to a lot of the players but the club have dealt with it very well. The transition has been smooth.
“For me, the new manager has shown a lot of faith in me and that is a massive boost.
“As for the game against Leicester, I don’t think the fans will give him a very good reaction considering I have heard a few chants about him during the last few games. But that is football and it is to be expected.”
Pearson’s departure opened the door for Barmby to step up to manager, in the process becoming the first Hull-born manager of the club.
The former England international has since taken three points from a possible nine, the defeats to Burnley and the Saints in the past week having come admittedly after the Tigers had been in front.
Evans, for one, was delighted by the appointment and forecasts bright times ahead for Hull.
He said: “Things settled down quite quickly after what happened. The international break helped in that respect, because we didn’t have a match and that allowed everything to be settled before the Derby game.
“The club also made it a smooth transition by appointing someone who we all respected anyway. That was great for the players, we all like Nick. Look at Barcelona and what they achieved when Pep Guardiola was promoted from within.
“Nick knew the club inside-out, so when he stepped up after (Frank) Rijkaard left it meant he could keep the club philosophy going. He has since added to that, as can be seen from his managerial record. He is one of the best managers in the world now. It shows what can be achieved when you promote from within.”