Just over a month ago, when Chris Wilder and his coaching staff met to discuss Marc McNulty’s future, a number of items featured on the agenda.
But one, the Sheffield United manager has acknowledged, was underlined in bright red ink.
“We had to do what is best for this football club,” Wilder explained. “Because, no if’s or but’s, that is always the most important thing. If it was decided that it was best to bring Marc back in then that’s what we were going to do. Which, as it worked out, was exactly what happened.”
Although the decision to terminate McNulty’s loan with Bradford City has been painted in some quarters as a Machiavellian act, the centre-forward’s return to Bramall Lane was effectively sealed long before the race for Championship football began to take shape. The knowledge it might cause Stuart McCall a headache is simply an added benefit.
Wilder, speaking ahead of last weekend’s victory over Southend, admitted injuries to Leon Clarke and Caolan Lavery had left United short of attacking options over the Autumn period and exposed Billy Sharp and Matt Done to gruelling workloads. Lavery’s subsequent return to fitness also raised the possibility of pairing McNulty with the former Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward after they impressed together at Portsmouth last term. McNulty, who spent six months on the south coast after being declared surplus to requirements by Nigel Adkins, scored 12 in only 25 starts for Paul Cook’s side. Lavery netted four in 13.
“Nothing is won, but we are in the mix,” Wilder, who replaced Adkins during the close season, continued. “There is a lot of work to do and it’s going to be a tough old slog. It’s been a tough, old slog for the last five years and it will be no different over the next four months. Hopefully we will have more highs than lows and we kick on. We have certainly given ourselves a fantastic base to build on.”
McNulty will be hoping to make his first appearance since returning to United when the League One leaders visit 14th placed Walsall tomorrow. Lavery, who was on target at Roots Hall six days ago, has impressed after dislodging Matt Done from the starting eleven.
“Caolan has come in and done well,” Wilder (pictured) said. “He’s a young boy against some experienced opponent, he’s created chances, created chances for himself and has always looked a threat.”
McNulty’s career at United has undoubtedly gone awry following the departure of Nigel Clough, who signed him from Livingston, at the end of the 2014/15 campaign. Despite claims Wilder’s predecessor stunted his development, the player enjoyed more first team football under the 50-year-old’s watch than any United manager since.
“Marc’s involved again, we know he can score goals and he’ll get his opportunity,” Wilder said. “Then, like anyone else, it’s up to him to grasp it.”