Hull City v Everton: ‘I hope he plays and I hope I strike one past him’

The careers of George Honeyman and Jordan Pickford have gone in very different directions since they left Sunderland, but Hull City’s talismanic midfielder is hoping matches against his good friend are not a one-off.

Whether today will be one, Honeyman is not sure. He has been texting Pickford all week to find out if he will be in goal for Everton in this evening’s televised FA Cup third-round tie but as of Thursday afternoon, the goalkeeper was none the wiser.

They were once youth team-mates but youngsters develop at different rates and whereas Pickford was prised out of his boyhood club in 2017 en route to becoming England’s goalkeeper in a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final shoot-out, Honeyman has had to endure two Championship relegations and work his way back up the ladder.

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Honeyman probably thought he had seen the back of the third tier when Hull took him out of it in 2019, only for them to be relegated 12 months later, but he won the title as the division’s player of the season in 2020-21.

George Honeyman of Hull City. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Despite diverging careers, Honeyman and Pickford remain good friends, so the former is really hoping for the chance to spoil the evening of “one of the good guys”.

“That was the first thing when the tie got pulled out I was looking forward to,” he says. “We’ve been texting each other and I can’t wait for a catch-up. I played with the lad since I was 11.

“He was the year above me but keepers float about. He’s a Washy (Washington) lad and I was born in Northumberland but we had mutual friends all the way through.

“We keep in touch quite a lot and he’s one of the good guys of footy. We’ve got a little WhatsApp group, me and a couple of others, and it’ll be nice to see him.

Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

“Jordan’s what you see on TV. He was an emotional lad (as an 11-year-old) but the talent and the desire he’s got is unmatched. He’s shown that at the very highest level.

“I knew from about 15 he was going to be England’s No 1. He was the only keeper I knew where people watched the (youth team) games just to watch his distribution.

“I hope he plays and I hope I strike one past him. I’d give my right hand for that. It will make it even sweeter when I see him on the golf courses.”

As well as taking pride in his friend’s rise, Honeyman takes inspiration from it too.

“It’s a little bit surreal because watching England, they seem so far out of reach, superstars, so to see one of my mates in goal in the semi-final of the World Cup was unbelievable,” he says. “I was super-proud of him like everyone else so hopefully we (England) get over the line at the next one.

“I’ve got a lot of role models from my time at Sunderland’s academy but he’s the one closest to me in terms of age and friendship.

“I’m super-jealous of him playing in the Premier League and for England, he’s living every lad’s dream. He’s absolutely earned the right with his desire, his talent. The way he’s delivered at the highest level is second to none.

“He’s definitely a motivation for me. Hopefully we’ll be pitting our wits against each other in the Premier League and that’s something I’ll cling onto until I’m told I can’t play footy any more.”

Hull’s chances of playing Championship football have increased greatly since Honeyman returned to the team after the ankle injury which delayed his season, and he says the belief needed to take on Everton has been there since November’s game at West Bromwich Albion in early November, even though that was a defeat.

“Results-wise it wasn’t a great start but in the games I watched I never felt we were too far away,” he insists. “There were only a couple where we didn’t play to our capability and didn’t deserve anything, but every other game I could see there was something there, something to build on.

“When I came into the squad it wasn’t instant but at West Brom away I felt something in our performance that night where even though we got beaten, it made me think if we keep that togetherness, that way of playing, we’d be all right.

“The last two results haven’t been great but I don’t think it’s dented our confidence. We know the Championship can be an up and down league and we’ve felt we’re not far off in the games we’ve lost.

“The atmosphere around the club is really good. We’re just really looking forward to the second half of the season.

“We’ve got a lot of belief going into this weekend. I don’t care what their form is like in the Premier League, they’re a Premier League club for a reason and a huge one at that so we’re just really looking forward to the game and nobody really expects us to do anything but that’s probably given us more confidence to think the shackles are off.”

The bubbly Honeyman, a maker and taker of goals from midfield, will be vital to Hull’s hopes.

“He leads by example every single day,” says his coach, Grant McCann. “George is a real professional in the way he trains, the way he goes about his life.

“He’s just a winner, whether that’s in passing drills, in a game, finshing drills – he wants to win. When he goes onto the pitch on a Saturday you can see it in the way he plays. Everybody looks up to George just for the way he goes about his everyday life.”

McCann is not waiting for Acun Ilicali to complete his protracted takeover of the club to try to build on the feel-good factor, already lining up transfers which have to be either free or loans because the club is under embargo. That will change if the Turkish television mogul can complete the sale, and he is expected to be in town this weekend to try to drive it through.