Marc McNulty, the Sheffield United centre-forward, has no plans to be cast in a supporting role at Bramall Lane this season, writes James Shield.
Speaking ahead of this afternoon’s League One encounter against Preston North End, manager Nigel Clough predicted it “might not be until next year” that the young Scot begins to realise his true footballing potential.
But McNulty, despite acknowledging he faces a “tough fight” to command a regular starting role, told The Star: “My aim is to try and give the gaffer something to think about. To make him think should he be putting me in the team.
“I appreciate I’ve still got a lot to learn and a lot of improving to do. But, every single time I step out onto that pitch, I’ve got to try and show something that makes him wonder about whether I should be staying out there again.”
Clough, whose side head to Deepdale hoping to record a fourth straight success in all competitions, was lavish in his praise of McNulty following Tuesday’s Capital One Cup success at West Ham.
The 21-year-old, marked by New Zealand international and World Cup representative Winston Reid, worked tirelessly after being deployed as a lone striker before dispatching a penalty as the visitors’ triumphed 5-4 on spot-kicks.
“Nobody is guaranteed a place in our team, even now, but I think that was Marc’s best outing for us down there,” said Clough. “His touch was good and he made a real nuisance of himself at things like free-kicks.
“I don’t think we’ll see the best of Marc until next season or next year. It’s still a settling in process for him.
“But the experience of coming up against someone like Winston Reid, who played at the World Cup finals for his country, will be invaluable for Marc. He can take a lot of heart and encouragement from that.”
Echoing those sentiments, McNulty added: “One of the biggest differences here is, with all due respect to back home, the quality of player I’ve come up against.
“During the match itself, you’re just focused on trying to do your job properly. But afterwards, when I watch the games back on DVD, I like to try and pick-up little pointers and things like that.
“Analyse what I could have done better or what someone has done to make my life a little bit harder out there.”
United, who beat Peterborough and Crawley Town en route to the Boleyn Ground, will hand a late fitness test to defender Bob Harris before naming their starting eleven for the meeting with Simon Grayson’s side.
But Michael Higdon, the former NEC Nijmegen and Motherwell centre-forward, is poised to return after being named on the bench for the second round tie at West Ham.
“Michael is still making up ground fitness wise,” Clough said. “Because he wasn’t working with a club over the summer he’s still not quite ready to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday but he’s getting there.
“Even so, what Michael brings us is that presence and nous. That’s something we are probably going to need against Preston.”
Simon Grayson, Clough’s counterpart in Lancashire, is expected to recall Bailey Wright after he made progress in his battle to overcome a groin complaint while Paul Gallagher should also feature.
McNulty, who has scored once in four outings since leaving the Energy Assets Arena three months ago, said: “I’m absolutely loving it here. You get looked after so well in terms of physios and support staff so, depending on which way you want to view it, there’s no excuses for not doing well or you’ve got a better chance of performing to your maximum.
“Either way, it can only be a good thing and I aim to use it to my advantage so that I can help the team.”