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Is Marc McNulty any good? Journo on how Sunderland’s latest signing did at Hibernian last season

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We’ve had the lowdown from Coventry and Reading about Sunderland’s latest signing, so now we head north of the border to chat with Edinburgh News Sport journalist Joel Sked to hear all about how Marc McNulty did when on loan at Hibs last season.

2019 Ladbrokes Premiership Football St Johnstone v Hibernian Feb 27th photo by Alan Rennie/Action Plus via Getty Images

RR: Marc McNulty spent last season on loan at Hibs. How did he do?

JS: He impressed so much that Hibs fans and manager Paul Heckingbottom were keen for him to return this summer. He hit eight goals in 17 appearances, including a run of five in three. He adapted quickly in returning to Scottish football and worked well as either a lone striker or as part of a strike duo.

RR: What perception were you given of McNulty by the Reading fans ahead of him signing, and how did that compare to how he performed during his time at the club?

JS: In all honesty I didn’t know what to expect. Fans and pundits in Scotland who had kept track of his movements down south saw it as a real coup for the Easter Road side.

That being said, taking a look at his goalscoring record it was a mixed bag.

Twenty three goals in League Two doesn’t necessarily suggest a star. In terms of playing style I was non the wiser having not been able to recall his previous in Scotland but I didn’t expect him to be much of a focal point. His performances earned him a Scotland call-up.... although went on to miss an absolute sitter.

RR: What sort of striker is he? Can he play as a lone man up top, or is he better in a two?

JS: His time in Edinburgh showed he was capable of doing both. He started by playing in tandem with Florian Kamberi in Paul Heckingbottom’s preferred 4-4-2.

In a game at Dundee the pair netted three between them with McNulty grabbing a brace. Yet, it was his build up play for Kamberi’s goal was fantastic. He dropped deep collected a ball and helped Hibs get up the pitch. With support in tow he exchanged passes with the midfield before sending a first time through ball into the path of his striker partner for him to score.

Yet, Hibs were too open and Heckingbottom made adjustments to the team, going with one in attack. McNulty was chosen ahead of Kamberi - who looks like the ideal front man - to lead the line. He performed the role competently, endearing himself to fans with his tenacity and willingness to get his body in and try and hold the ball up.

Yet, of his eight goals for Hibs, seven arrived against teams in the bottom half. McNulty scored just once in the last eight league games, seven of which were against team in the top half. It suggests that against more difficult teams he will struggle to play the lone role so well without the necessary support.

RR: Rumours were that both he and Hibs fancied another go at it this season, but a move obviously hasn’t materialised. What has happened there then?

JS: One word: money.

“It’ll cost too much money. We’re not in a position to do it because either we’ve not got enough finance or what they’re asking is too much.”

Heckingbottom’s quote says it all.

RR: Do you think McNulty is good enough to play and score regularly for Sunderland in League One?

JS: Yeah, I think he is. 11 goals in 55 League One appearances is not a great return.

But I am of the belief that he should thrive in a team who are on the front foot. I think the Hibs loan really helped him to kick on and if Sunderland can provide the support in the final third he will score and create.

RR: What would you say the strengths and weaknesses are to his game?

JS: McNulty will find himself in good positions in the box and will happily stand still to see how play is evolving before making that movement.

There is an energy to his performances, however there can be a tendency for afternoons to arrive where one or two things don’t go his way and interest slowly wanes.

Playing with confidence, he is a different player.

RR: Overall - how do you view this piece of business for Sunderland?

JS: I think it will be. As previously mentioned, he rediscovered something at Hibs and will see Sunderland as a huge opportunity. If he is playing regularly in a confident team Jack Ross could have a real gem on his hands.