MARC McNulty has attributed his slow start to the new season with Dundee United to being forced to train with schoolboys at Reading this summer – but expressed confidence he can pass the sternest examination he has faced to date this term in his first ever Dundee derby at Tannadice today.

McNulty has failed to net in the four appearances he has made for the Tayside club in the 2021/22 campaign and missed a gilt-edged scoring chance in the 0—0 draw with St Mirren in Paisley last weekend. 

The 29-year-old feels that he is struggling for sharpness in front of goal because he was frozen out at the Madejski Stadium, where he has played just 17 games since signing back in 2018, before he agreed to return to United on another loan.

“I was playing with the youth team at Reading,” he said. “I was literally training with the under-18s, kids of 17 and 16. I didn’t really play any games. I think I played one 90 minutes. So my last full game was the last game of last season for Dundee United.

“So I was pretty much playing catch up when I came here. It was unfortunate, but these things happen in football. I just need to get myself up to speed as quickly as possible. I think I am getting there now.”

Asked if latest loan deal at United means that his unhappy spell at Reading is over, McNulty said: “It was made pretty clear about four years ago after I signed a four year deal that that was going to be the case. I could sit here all day and rant about it, but it is one of those things and it is done now.

“I think I had five different managers in my time there. You understand as a player sometimes that you are not wanted, you don’t fit a system or the gaffer just doesn’t fancy you. These things happen in football. But sometimes in football you just want to have a little bit of respect given.

“I mean, I am turning up to training every day and applying myself correctly and I am having to train with 15 and 16-year-olds. It wouldn’t happen in any other line of work so I don’t know why it should happen in football. But, again, these things happen so I am just glad to back up here, being back in training and being at a club where I am wanted.

“It was frustrating at the weekend that I never opened my goal account, but I am looking forward to Sunday and hopefully I can do it then.”

McNulty is preferring to concentrate on United’s first match against their city rivals in nearly two years this afternoon. A full house will be in attendance and the action will be shown live on Sky Sports. The forward is hoping it brings out the best in him.

“As a player, you get excited for certain games and this is one of them,” he said. “It is going to be a sell-out. It will probably be the first time I have played in a full stadium for a long time. I can’t remember the last time I played in a full stadium.”

“This weekend is the game you look forward to as a player. I am lucky in that I have played in quite a few big games where there is a lot of pressure on you. Those are the kind of games I normally turn up in.”

McNulty failed to convert a penalty in an Edinburgh derby against Hearts at Easter Road during his first loan spell at Hibernian in 2019. But he will have no hesitation stepping forward to take a spot kick today if United are awarded one. 

“Two of my best pals are Hearts fans and I got them tickets for that game,” he said. “They were in the Hearts end . . . sticking their fingers up at me after I missed it. They remind me pretty often about that.

“But the experience was absolutely brilliant. Being a local boy, I obviously knew a lot about it. I have got a lot of friends and family on both sides of the city. The atmosphere from the kick-off to the end was electric, it was brilliant. I am excited for this weekend. I have heard a lot about this one. I am sure it will be extra special.”

McNulty continued: “It wasn’t the first penalty I have missed and it will probably not be the last. These things happen and you are disappointed. As a striker you want to stick them away. Penalties are your golden tickets. So to miss them you are disappointed, you are gutted, and you do beat yourself up about them.

“But you have got to move on quick because in the next game you might get one and you will be hoping you get to take it.

“If chosen by the manager to take one this weekend I will step up. As a strike from that distance you have got to be confident from that distance with just you and the keeper. In saying that I have already missed one this season. No, you have got to be confident that if you get a penalty you can step up and put it away.”