Whilst not quite ready to breed whippets and offer “Ay-up” as a friendly greeting, it’s fair to say that Marc McNulty is revelling in his new life in Yorkshire.
He is man of the moment at Sheffield United; the top goalscorer in one of the most dangerous cup teams in the land and causing ripples across English football.
The former Livingston striker is still on a high several days after one of the most exhilarating experiences of his young life. His ninth goal of the season kicked off a shock 3-0 FA Cup win for his League One club at Premier League Queens Park Rangers on Sunday. A shock, but not a shock. At least, not for anyone aware of United’s recent cup exploits.
Nigel Clough’s side reached last season’s FA Cup semi-final and are already in this year’s Capital One Cup semi, where they face Tottenham thanks to McNulty’s quarter-final winner against Southampton. The 22-year-old from Portobello is making a welcome habit of bulging nets against Premier League opposition. That £125,000 fee paid to Livingston last summer already looks a bargain to rival any January sale at the Almondvale Shopping Centre.
English football is proving to be more than McNulty dreamed of. Scots like Jamie Murphy, Ryan Flynn, Rob Harris and others at Bramall Lane helped smooth his transition from West Lothian to Yorkshire. His bond with Stefan Scougall, who left Livingston for United six months beforehand, remains strong. Indeed, as the striker slid to his knees on the Loftus Road turf after opening the scoring on Sunday, Scougall was first to arrive to begin the celebrations.
At the moment, life is one big party. “I love it down here. I was dying to come down and see what English football is all about and I’ve loved every minute of it,” says McNulty. “I haven’t started as many games as I would like but you have to appreciate the gaffer’s decisions and just be there when called upon. That’s what I’ve done, whether it’s off the bench or not. I don’t think I’ve done too badly and I’m enjoying myself.
“I was playing for Livingston and when I was coming into their team I just wanted to cement a first-team place. I did that and after I’d played for a couple of years I thought I’d like to try something new. I think everyone’s dream is to play in England. I was lucky Sheffield United wanted to take a chance on me and I’ve never looked back since.”
The seeds of the move were sown two years previously. “I’d been at Derby [on trial] when Nigel Clough was manager there but that fell through. I knew what he was all about so when I heard about Sheffield United it was a pretty easy decision for me. I came down for the week, trained with the boys and saw the place. My mind was made up straight away.
“A team like Sheffield United, the size of them, opportunities like that don’t come around every day. I would’ve been silly to say no to that. I jumped at it. I’ve scored nine goals this season, I haven’t had any injuries, so everything’s been running smoothly. My family come down for every home game and I’ve got friends that travel down as well. I still get to see everybody quite a lot.
“I’ve got my own place to live in now. I obviously knew Scougs from Livingston and he helped me settle in when I first came down. Me and Scougs are pretty close so we’re always doing stuff away from the football. It’s good to have a mate around. There are a lot of Scottish lads in the team and we all stay close to each other. They’ve all helped me and I’ve benefitted from that.” Clough continues to benefit from venturing into the Scottish market and United fans are excited about how far the current crop might go. The pre-season aim was promotion to the Championship (they are presently sixth) but the cups just keep getting in the way, much to everyone’s delight. McNulty is relishing the leap onto a bigger stage.
“It’s the million dollar question everyone always asks. Why are we so good in the cups? No-one can really put their finger on it, to be honest,” he says. “Sheffield United went on a good cup run last year and I think a lot of people are expecting us to do well again this year. It’s a good and a bad thing.
“When we’re away to a Premier League team and a lot of people are thinking we’re going to win because of the cup runs, it’s obviously not great. It’s good to have that in the background, though. Teams know how good we’ve been in the cup and it might put doubts in their minds.
“There was a little bit of belief that we could get something down at QPR. We played well and deserved the win, it was brilliant. I think the Southampton game at home was just that little bit better, probably because of the atmosphere, but Sunday was amazing. To win 3-0 away at a Premier League team was mad.
“People are still talking about it and I’m still getting phonecalls and texts. It’s still sinking in.
“I think we shocked ourselves and a lot of other people that we won so convincingly.”
The victory also allowed a cheeky jibe at a former team-mate. QPR’s 19-year-old centre-back Coll Donaldson is another Livingston academy graduate who captains the London club’s under-21 side. He was not involved against United but that didn’t stop some McNulty baiting. “I had a couple of texts from the big man but it was nothing too serious. He was just congratulating me on the goal. I told him he was lucky he wasn’t playing,” laughed the forward.
Tottenham are now in McNulty’s sights. After league fixtures against Preston North End and MK Dons, Sheffield United’s cup juggernaut charges into White Hart Lane on Wednesday, January 21. The return leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final takes place at Bramall Lane the following week. Those ties are just two of eight games on the fixture list for January alone.
“It’s crazy the amount of games you have down here,” continues McNulty. “You’re playing Saturday-Wednesday most weeks. Everyone is excited about White Hart Lane already. At Livingston, you’d only ever get the odd Tuesday night game. Down here there are so many teams. The aim at the start of the season was to go up. The league season has been stop-start. We haven’t been consistent enough to be in the top two.”
Far greater concern surrounds the league position at his formative club. Livingston have been in freefall virtually since McNulty departed and are currently six points adrift at the foot of the Scottish Championship. They suffered a five-point deduction for non-payment of tax and are facing a legal claim for around £300,000 from former chief executive Ged Nixon. The situation remains a talking point in Yorkshire.
“I still keep in touch with some of the boys at Livingston and you don’t want to see your old club struggling,” says McNulty. “I owe Livingston quite a bit. They’ve gone through a tough time over the last few years. I hope they can recover and get themselves back up the league.”
Producing a few more prodigious youngsters like him would give them a far better chance. “I think throughout Scottish football, and elsewhere, that’s what needs to happen. I don’t see the problem giving youths a chance. If players are doing well in the youth team then chuck them in. What’s the worst that can happen? The players are going to learn from it.
“A lot of them thrive on that chance and take off. Quite a lot of Scottish boys move down to England after breaking through at Scottish clubs.”
Few have taken off as quickly as McNulty. For a player nicknamed Sparky, there is no shortage of fireworks displays at England’s high-profile venues.