The 26-year-old Scot, who had been on Hibs’ books as a youngster before making the breakthrough at Livingston and earning a move down south, has fallen out of favour at the Madejski Stadium since the arrival of new manager Jose Gomes.
There had been competition for his signature, with Sunderland, Wigan, Coventry City and Luton all showing an interest although with only a couple of days of the transfer window remaining, it had emerged that Luton were the main challengers to the Scottish Premiership side.
But, delays as Reading and the player weighed up the options, have forced Luton to look elsewhere, opting to sign former Hibs frontman Jason Cummings, leaving the way clear for Hibs who are now the frontrunners and are expected to conclude the 18-month loan deal before tonight’s transfer deadline provided they can reach an understanding regarding any sell-on clauses.
It is understood that the player, pictured, who netted 28 goals to help Coventry City gain promotion to League One last term, is keen to make a bid for a place in Alex McLeish’s Scotland set-up and believes that being back north of the Border and playing regularly at a high level will enhance his chances.
McNulty had been a target under Neil Lennon but since his suspension and subsequent departure from the club, the football department has maintained the pursuit, with the backing of the board, who hope to have a new manager in place as soon as possible.
The unseemly end to Lennon’s two-and-a-half year tenure was formalised yesterday when Lennon, his assistant Garry Parker and the club issued a joint statement, saying all parties considered it best to part amicably.
Bizarrely it was claimed that the management duo had neither been pushed, nor had they resigned and despite tales of bust-ups with players and chief executive Leeann Dempster, it was claimed that there had been no “misconduct or wrongdoing and no disciplinary process has been commenced”.
Rod Petrie, chairman, said: “We are grateful to Neil and Garry for all their efforts and in particular for leading the club back to the top flight of Scottish football. We wish nothing but the best for Neil and Garry and their families for the future.”
Lennon had earned the respect of his employers and the adulation of the fans over the first two terms of his reign, following promotion from the Championship with a best-ever points tally on their return to the top flight, narrowly missing out on a second-place finish, settling for a still-impressive fourth and a shot at Europa League qualifying.
That had built on the feeling of positivity he had inherited on the back of the 2016 Scottish Cup win and the club had gone on to record their best season-ticket figures since 1958.
Lennon said: “I would like to thank the board, the coaching staff, the players and all the fans for making the last two and a half years so enjoyable. It has been my privilege to serve the club and I wish it every success in the future.”
But his departure “by mutual consent” leaves the way clear for a new man to come in and attempt to rebuild confidence in a squad that has been blighted by injuries this term and currently sits eighth in the Premiership table.
Former Scotland boss Gordon Strachan had been linked with the role but, in his regular Paddy Power column, said he was more focused on improving Scotland’s young players than returning to a managerial role at the moment.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve been obsessed with youth football, particularly in Scotland,” he said. “Wales have Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Poland have Robert Lewandowski. We have to start producing our own stars.
“Since I left the Scotland job, I’ve been speaking to people in the game about my ideas, and visiting different academies around the world. So management isn’t on my agenda right now. But if something came along to give me full scope to do what I’m talking about with youth football, and to manage, then who knows? You never say no to any job. I’m only 61, I can still coach, and run about, no problem. I just don’t want to take a job for the sake of it. I want to take a job I love.”
While Hibs are exploring a number of options, Lennon’s predecessor Alan Stubbs has made it known that he would be open to a return.
The manager who smashed the club’s Scottish Cup hoodoo left on a high in the summer of 2016 but ill-fated stints at both Rotherham United and St Mirren may have diluted his appeal.