Paul Heckingbottom keeping Marc McNulty in mind but show must go on

Marc McNulty still has three years left on his Reading contract. Picture: SNS.
Marc McNulty still has three years left on his Reading contract. Picture: SNS.
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Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom has revealed that the signing of striker Christian Doidge does not mean he has given up on bringing Marc McNulty back to Easter Road.

The Scotland hitman has returned to Reading, where he still has three years of his contract to run but isn’t in the plans of manager Jose Gomes, after a successful few months on loan at Hibs.

However, Reading spent £1 million only a year ago to buy the 26-year-old and are believed to want to recoup the bulk of that sum rather than allow him to leave on another loan deal.

But while he waits to see how that situation resolves itself, Heckingbottom insisted he had to make his move as he paid a six-figure fee for Forest Green Rovers player Doidge, pictured inset.

McNulty, who was released by Hibs as a youngster, relished the chance to return to Easter Road last season and scored eight goals as Heckingbottom guided the side to a fifth-place finish following a lacklustre spell in the latter days of Neil Lennon’s tenure.

The manager said: “I am not saying Sparky [McNulty] is 100 per cent not coming because we don’t know what is going to happen. Sparky would love to do it, but there is no guarantee. We can’t wait around, put all our eggs in one basket.

“Then two things would go wrong, I wouldn’t be working with any player because they wouldn’t be in the building and we wouldn’t be getting first choices. We want to keep pushing and getting the first choice players we want.”

And, revealed Heckingbottom, the same approach applies as far as Stephane Omeonga is concerned, the Belgian Under-21 internationalist having returned to Italian Serie A outfit Genoa.

Italian sides Hellas Verona and Ascoli have been credited with an interest in signing the midfielder but Heckingbottom says Omeonga’s preference is to return to Edinburgh.

He said: “If it was close and Genoa were happy to listen to the player we will have as good a chance as anyone. We weren’t expecting anything to be quick but we can’t wait, we have to keep pushing and pushing other avenues just in case we can’t get that done.”

Meanwhile, Heckingbottom believes Steven Whittaker has never been in better shape, adamant the 35-year-old still has a place in his thoughts.

A torn hip flexor sustained during Heckingbottom’s very first training session ruled Whittaker out for the final three months of last season.

Whittaker made his name with Hibs as a youngster, winning the League Cup in 2007, before a trophy-laden spell at Rangers preceded five years at Norwich City. He returned to Easter Road on a three-year deal in 2017.

Former Barnsley and Leeds United boss Heckingbottom has been delighted by what he has seen of the veteran, entering the final season of his contract, in pre-season training, and says his experience could prove valuable to the side.

He said: “He has come back really fit, really strong and looks hungry to get in the team, which I didn’t doubt because he’s a really conscientious player.

“We have laid down the challenge – there is a place in the team for him if he comes back, earns it and nails it.

“He knows and everybody knows that as you get older it doesn’t get any easier. But I doubt there’s been any pre-seasons when he’s come back in the shape he’s in at the minute.

“We didn’t get to work with him enough at the end of last season because he picked up that injury but I am hoping we can get him in the side. He has certainly got the quality to 
help us out.”