Hibs striker Marc McNulty ready to fight for spot-kick duties
The gloves were off the minute Mark Ridgers dived down to his left to stop Paul Hanlon’s spot-kick on Friday night. And now there is a fight for the right to take the next Hibernian penalty, with striker Marc McNulty willing to take on all comers.
It was clear that there would be recriminations when the skipper pulled rank but then stepped up and missed.
It was the side’s third penalty in four games and their third miss, with McNulty and then Scott Allan profligate from 12 yards against Ross County and then Livingston respectively.
McNulty was still hungry for another shot and had picked up the ball after being pulled down by Inverness Caledonian Thistle defender Kevin McHattie, but he was relieved of duties and shoved aside by his captain.
Fifteen minutes later as the players headed up the tunnel for the interval, with the scoreline poised precariously at 1-0 after Hanlon’s defensive partner Adam Jackson had helped spare some of his blushes, the captain was still being trolled by the Hibs striker.
“I genuinely didn’t see them arguing about it [at the time],” said the Easter Road manager Jack Ross. “But it was still going on at half-time I think. I don’t mind that. We’ve got players who are hungry for success.”
The Premiership side went on to secure a convincing 5-2 victory and book a Scottish Cup semi-final place, against city rivals Hearts, but that did not completely quash McNulty’s ire, with the on-loan frontman throwing down the gauntlet and calling for a winner-takes-all slugfest or, at the very least, a training ground shoot-out to determine who will have the honour the next time a spot-kick is awarded.
“Look, as a striker, and speaking for myself, you want to take penalties all the time, even if you’ve missed. I could miss two or three and I would still want to take the penalties,” McNulty said.
“As a striker you always need to be confident and feel that you are going to go up and, from that far out, put it away. But the decision was made that Paul would take them and he apparently has a good record of taking penalties, it’s just that this time he missed!”
“I didn’t want that to happen but he did and I suppose now we can go back to the drawing board and we will see who takes the next one,” added the Scotland international, who admitted that the fact he was thrown over for a defender made the decision even harder to swallow.
“That was my argument! But it was just one of those things. He missed the penalty so we will just have to fight it out now, Rocky style or something like that,” he said. “I think everyone will need to take penalties at training on Monday and we will see what happens! There are obviously a few jokes about having a shootout already.
“When we get the next penalty I would be confident of scoring and wanting to take it but I’m sure a few of the boys will feel the same.”
The Leith side are unified in their overall ambitions, though, with a couple of major derbies taking centre stage. They host their capital foes on league duty tomorrow night, aware that a win would help secure Hibs’ top-six spot and bolster their European aspirations, while heightening Hearts’ relegation woes. They will then face up on neutral territory after they were paired in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, and with a cup run and a derby clash both tantalising to McNulty, he cannot wait for either.
“The Edinburgh derby is obviously massive,” added the 27-year-old. “When I wasn’t playing in Scotland it was still one of the games that you knew about. Your mates talked about going to the games and how good that was and I was lucky enough to play in a couple last season and it was brilliant. Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of these games. I’m buzzing already. All the boys are ready to go.
“The Scottish Cup is massive. Obviously, Hibs won it a few years ago and the crowds that it brought out on to the streets and the celebrations were amazing to watch from the outside and it is something as a player that you would love to be part of.
“Some of the boys were part of that and they have told us how special that was and we all want to do that again. I think we’ve got to be confident. We have been doing well recently and scoring goals and we are on a good run. But we need to stay level-headed. Obviously, you do gain confidence from winning games, though. We just have to take every game as it comes and tick them off one by one.”