Marc McNulty has been on the Scotland radar for nearly a year, but Alex McLeish’s plans to monitor the striker hit a fundamental snag – he was not playing.
A move to Reading last summer, earned following the striker’s prodigious goalscoring form for Coventry City, proved frustrating for McLeish as well as the player himself. McNulty made only six starts in the English Championship before being loaned to Hibs, where he has since scored six goals in eight appearances to earn him a first Scotland call-up for the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Kazakhstan and San Marino.
“Our scouting team has virtually seen him every game and I’ve had pretty good reports about his link play and that kind of thing,” explained McLeish. “It was my intention to go and see him when he signed for Reading but he got so little game time that I never got a chance. Now that he’s come to Hibs, we’ve seen a lot of his play that we think merits a call up.
“We have had some injury problems and we felt that he was the outstanding candidate to come in. We did look at some of the young Scottish strikers who are also on the radar.”
McNulty is included in the forward options alongside the likes of Oli McBurnie and on-loan Celtic player Oliver Burke. Swansea City’s McBurnie has been struggling recently with illness but was included. Ryan Fraser won’t play in the first game against Kazakhstan and neither will Callum Paterson after agreements were struck with their clubs, Bournemouth and Cardiff City respectively, who had shared concerns about the synthetic surface.
Right-back Liam Palmer is in contention to play both games seven years after he last represented Scotland – at Under-21 level. The Sheffield Wednesday player is one of three players from Steel City in the 27-man squad. Team-mate Barry Bannan returns to the fray for the first time under McLeish, while Sheffield United’s John Fleck is also included for the second successive squad.
“Liam was someone who was flagged up a few weeks ago,” explained McLeish. “He was on a good run with Sheffield Wednesday, I spoke to a couple of managers about him and who had come up against him and who I know in the game and they said he was a very decent player and someone we should assess. He has been converted from a midfielder. The last few games he has played at left-back for Sheffield Wednesday and he has filled the role with no problems whatsoever. He is very athletic, a good height and it is great competition. We have been saying we have not had competition at right-back for a long time.
“Barry has been really consistent,” added McLeish, who worked with the player while in charge at Aston Villa. “John Fleck has been outstanding for Sheffield United over the last couple of years. Having made contact with the Sheffield United manager as well he is delighted that we have chosen John again.”
Meanwhile, with the goalkeeper situation high on the agenda following the international retirement of Allan McGregor, McLeish said he had no current plans to pursue Angus Gunn, son of his former Aberdeen team-mate Bryan. The 23 year-old Southampton goalkeeper was reported to be close to switching to Scotland, who his goalkeeper father represented, having played for England at every level up to Under-21. But McLeish revealed he was letting the matter lie for the time being.
“I’m not pushing for Angus,” he said. “The goalkeepers we’ve had in the last year have been fantastic and Angus would have a fight to get in the team.
“I have had dialogue with Bryan. Angus is a Scots lad and he has a dilemma thinking about the England thing. He thought he might have had a chance at the World Cup last year and that would have been a breakthrough for him.”
“He has other opportunities with England until the summer and he’s not making any decision.
“I’m not chasing it as I’ve had contact over the last few months and my concentration is on these guys who I have had the pleasure of working with over the last few years.”