Marc McNulty arrived at Bramall Lane, posed under a ‘Strength Through Adversity’ sign in the tunnel and surveyed his new surroundings at Sheffield United.
Life at Bramall Lane has been something of a whirlwind for the young Scottish striker, who was finally captured from Livingston in the summer after a protracted, drawn-out chase by United boss Nigel Clough.
He netted on his first start in Blades red-and-white, in a Capital One Cup win over Mansfield. He ended a five-game goal drought with a late consolation in a 5-2 loss at Swindon, probably United’s most inept performance of the season.
Then came something of a purple patch for the 23-year-old, who scored four goals in four league games before suffering a fractured cheekbone after an incident in an Edinburgh nightclub.
Wearing a protective mask, McNulty made his return with 20 minutes last Friday against Notts County. He then played 70 in a 1-0 loss to MK Dons on Tuesday. It may not quite fit the criteria of adversity, but McNulty will be itching to put an eventful episode of his fledgling career behind him - starting, he hopes, with goals against Plymouth in the FA Cup this weekend.
“We definitely didn’t get what we deserved against MK Dons,” McNulty said.
“And the boys feel hard done to in the dressing room. We had so many chances, but it was one of those days you get in football every so often. You do get days when it just doesn’t go for you.
“It is frustrating, of course, for us as players and for the fans. But I’m sure it’ll balance out over the season. There’ll be times when we don’t play as well, and nick a result. I’m sure it’ll swing our way at some point.”
McNulty, relieved of the specially-crafted mask which protects his vulnerable cheekbone, speaks with both a bubbly enthusiasm for the game, and an almost-cold confidence that he will deliver the goods when required.
With good reason, too.
“Marc has shown what a good player he is,” Clough, speaking to this newspaper before McNulty’s return, said.
“He’s an exciting talent and that’s why we brought him here. We’ve always maintained that we’ll bring him on and take care of his development in the right way, and in the proper manner.”
That duty of care included sending McNulty to be fitted for the same kind of mask which Neill Collins, the United defender and the striker’s fellow Scot, donned to protect a similar injury during the second-half of the 2012/13 season.
Designed to be as lightweight and comfortable as possible, the masks are measured up using a 3D scan of the players’ faces before being made up layer by layer, usually using powdered nylon and the latest selective laser sintering technology.
“The mask doesn’t hinder me at all,” McNulty said.
“It’s fine, to be honest. Sometimes it does move with a little bit of sweat or something like that, but I can deal with that.
“It doesn’t affect my concentration or anything like that, either. Sometimes in the game, I’m too busy concentrating on the ball so you forget it’s even on there at all.
“I got 70 minutes under my belt against MK Dons, which can only be a good thing for me as I look to get back up to full fitness.
“Of course, I’m still lacking a little bit of match sharpness as I’ve been out for a wee while.
“But hopefully I can build on that in the next few weeks - starting, I hope, against Plymouth in the FA Cup.”
If McNulty is selected to face John Sheridan’s promotion-seeking League Two side this weekend, he could line up once again against good friend, and old Livingston team-mate, Stefan Scougall.
Scougall made the move from the Almondvale Stadium to Bramall Lane five months before Clough acquired McNulty’s services, and the pair remain close off the pitch - and travelled together to watch Manchester City’s Champions League win over Bayern Munich last Tuesday.
“Part of the attraction of coming here was the amount of Scots in the squad,” smiled McNulty, one of eight players born north of the border - while another, Liverpool-born Jay McEveley, has three Scotland caps.
“I didn’t know there were that many until I checked! But Scougs and I kept in touch after he left, and he spoke so highly of the place.”
McNulty’s move to Bramall Lane also allowed him to link up with an unlikely hero - Michael Higdon, the United striker who notched SPL goals for fun during spells at St Mirren and Motherwell.
“I grew up supporting Celtic, so Henrik Larsson was always my hero,” McNulty said.
“But I remember Higgy as a youngster. He’s got loads of experience and is a great guy to talk to and learn from.
“I remember it well, him scoring for fun in the SPL and hopefully we can both do that here.”