George Honeyman opens up on that red card, his Wembley relief & where Sunderland stand in promotion race

It took a little while for the dust to settle.

Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 6:00 am
WWFC 1-1 SAFC 09-03-2019. Picture by FRANK REID

At first, it was the conclusion that anyone present at Adams Park would have felt inevitable.

A poorly managed game exploding into a touchline melee, the consequence of which was George Honeyman and Wycombe’s Nathan Tyson seeing red.

Both players had already been substituted.

Slowly, though, it dawned on everyone that this could well mean that homegrown captain Honeyman might now miss the chance to lead his side out at Wembley.

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By his own admission, after having to shoulder the burden of playing in only the second Sunderland side to ever be relegated to the third tier, that would have been tough to take.

It is obvious still that missing three crucial league games stings the 24-year-old, but the bizarre relaxation of the competition’s suspension rules at least means he will not be denied the chance to wear the captain’s armband next Sunday.

“It was a bit of a surreal moment, in the changing room by myself,” Honeyman said.

“It was five minutes later that I actually calmed down and started to think about the consequences.

“I couldn’t have picked what I thought was going to be the next three games.

“Barnsley, arguably the biggest game of the season so far.

“Walsall, that was my mum’s birthday so she was bringing a group of friends over to the game, their first time watching Sunderland.

“Then Wembley.

“On the bus [leaving Wycombe], I’d heard that I might be able to play,” he added.

“The next 48 hours were horrible, I didn’t know what games what I was going to miss, how the appeal would go etc.

“You just don’t know where you’re at, I just wanted to know what was going to happen and if it was the worst possible news then at least I could start to get my head round it.

“It’s done now.

“The relief that I can play at Wembley, I’m extremely lucky at how it has worked out and I can’t wait to try and take the opportunity.

“Our goal at the start of the year was promotion but when you get to the final, you go to Wembley, OK it’s been watered down by Tottenham playing their home games there but for a lot of people to play it is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he added.

“You just never know when that opportunity could come again. It would have been a really tough pill to swallow, I’m very lucky.

“I’ve got a busload of family and friends going down and that was already all booked up before the red, so it’s doubly lucky!”

Reflecting on that melee itself, Honeyman has some element of regret, but more with the consequences of his intervention than the intervention itself.

He said: “It was just one of those games.

“It was a battle and they had a gameplan to frustrate us.

“The ball came out of play, our kitman has gone to get the ball and their assistant manager has kicked it out of his hands.

“That’s when I’ve ran in.

“Rightly or wrongly, I wish I’d never got sent off but if someone goes for one of us, it’s my personality.

“I wouldn’t say it is right or wrong, that’s just how I am and how we are as a team.”

The clash with Portsmouth comes at a strange time in Sunderland’s season.

It’s a cup final arguably nowhere near as important as the games that have preceded it and will follow it.

For some Sunderland supporters, there will understandable anxiety that the enforced break from league action could open the door for teams around the Black Cats to win games and ramp up the pressure.

Honeyman takes the positives, the chance to enjoy a break from the league pressure and to revel in the delight of reaching a final, regardless of the competition.

“You could say it’s a distraction or you can look at it and say, it’s a great thing, take all the pressure away from a league game,” he said.

“Let Barnsley and Luton, all the other teams worry about their game, we’ve got an amazing opportunity to go and play at Wembley, not worry about the league.

“It’s rare to have that so let’s look at it that way and enjoy it.

“As a whole club, what we’ve been through in the last few years, for us to have a day out at Wembley, we should be immensely proud of that.

“You can probably count on one hand the amount of times we’ve enjoyed ourselves over the last few years, so let’s enjoy the weekend.

“We can have a really nice run up to it now,” he said.

“We wanted Portsmouth to get through if we were going to get to the final because we knew they’d bring a big crowd as well.

“It’ll be surreal, I just want everyone to enjoy the moment and I’m sure they will.

“Enjoy playing for Sunderland in a cup final at Wembley because, it’s not the FA Cup but it’ll live in people’s memories if we go there and lift a trophy.”

The Black Cats know that whatever happens during their break, their promotion fate remains in their own hands.

For Honeyman, that is a fine achievement and he is convinced that the team will take advantage.

“I think we’re exactly where we need to be,” he said.

“I know we’re probably expected to be getting record points, to have won the league by a country mile, but that’s not how it was ever going to be.

“After the few years that we’ve had at the club, we couldn’t win in a home game in a calendar year just about.

“Now we’ve gone unbeaten all season so far, in any league that’s tough to do.

“It’s never easy, I haven’t played one game this season where I thought it was easy.

“Everyone can’t wait to play against us, it’s a battle every week and I think we’ve coped with it well as a club,” he added.

“We’re in a massive period of transition as a club, for us to be sitting third with promotion in our hands and a cup final at Wembley, it has been a good season so far.

“Now it’s about finishing it well.

“I’ve got no doubts that we will, the mindset at the club is really good.”