Wednesday, 12 January 2011

James 'Jim' McNulty: Brighton's unluckiest footballer?

Back in January of 2009, Brighton and Hove Albion were in desperate need of a left back.

In fact, to be honest, the club was in desperate need of anyone. Returning boss Micky Adams had failed to get the promotion fires burning and the future looked, well, a bit grim.

So it was quite a boost when Brighton snaffled up talented left back Jim McNulty from League One rivals Stockport County.

The former Everton youth prospect had earlier rejected the chance to speak to the Seagulls - preferring to stay and slog it out with higher placed County. However, the club's perilous financial situation forced a change of heart and the Liverpudlian met with then Albion chairman Dick Knight and was won over by his vision for the Falmer-bound club.

The Albion faithful knew little about McNulty - other than the fact he shared his name with that cop from The Wire and would probably be better than what we already had.

In fact, as sizable as the £150,000 fee was, the most talked-about part of the deal was the fact McNulty was spotted, Heat magazine style, at Brighton Station turning down the 'Tangfastic Haribo pack for a quid' deal in WH Smith. Some doubted they would ever forgive him for this PR disaster.

The early indications were that McNulty - who signed a three year deal - would be a key figure in the Seagulls' side as they moved to Falmer and a brighter future. Adams described him as "a fantastic addition to the squad" and said he "fitted the criteria of a modern day player - with good pace and a nice left foot".

And the former Scotland Under 21 international impressed in his opening games - despite wearing gloves. Gloves could be forgiven though. Unlike snoods...

Sadly then, just a handful of games into life at the Albion, McNulty went down after what looked like an innocuous challenge during the 4v0 home defeat to Crewe.

He hobbled off in obvious pain and it was later revealed McNulty had ruptured a kidney. For a time he was in intensive care. Football suddenly took a back step.

Thankfully, the likable scouser recovered - minus the kidney - and started out on the long road to recovery.

More than six months went by before he kicked a ball in anger - with McNulty making an appearance in a pre-season friendly against Scunthorpe.

He made his first competitive appearance in the JP Cup game against Leyton Orient but - just a scattering of games later - suffered a serious ankle injury on the day of Brighton's 7v1 away mauling at Huddersfield and it was once again back to the treatment table for 'Jimmy' James.

Once again he fought back - by now facing stiff competition from impressive new signing Marcos Painter. McNulty got his chance in the FA Cup match-up with Aston Villa. He was given a torid time against Ashley Young (although he isn't alone in that) and was later shipped out to Scunthorpe on loan.

A recurrence of his ankle injury restricted him to just three games for the Championship side but the Iron obviously saw enough to pay Brighton a fee to re-loan the player again this season.

He returned to Glandford Park and impressed in six appearances in the division above the Seagulls but once again, ankle problems robbed him of a run of games and he returned to Brighton.

Scans at a top Harley Street surgery showed up a series of nerve endings sticking out of his ankle which had been causing the problems and the club booked him in for corrective surgery - which both manager Gus Poyet and player hope will spell and end to what has to be one of the unluckiest run of injuries suffered by a Seagull.

He went under the knife yesterday and now faces a frustrating five months out at a time when the Seagulls are enjoying life at the top of League One.

The danger is that McNulty could be forgotten amid the promotion push and fervour surrounding the new stadium. He has also been linked with a move away from Sussex - with Scunthorpe keen on making the loan move permanent. It is unlikely they will be alone in their pursuit if McNulty can recapture his early form.

For the Seagulls to be successful though they need a squad. And a raring to go, fit McNulty would be a welcome and valued addition. The player - despite taking some convincing to move south - is adamant he wants to stay at the club.

Fingers crossed that fate starts dealing out a few kinder hands because a nicer lad you would struggle to meet.

Get well soon Jim.

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