20 year old Niall Maher has been at Bolton Wanderers since the age of seven having impressed for Sunday league team Denton Youth. At this point Maher turned down the opportunity to join Manchester City, as any logical person would.
Maher become an important part of the Trotters Under-18 and Under-21 teams before being loaned to Blackpool in the second half of last season. He made his senior debut at the troubled club against Watford and went on to make 10 appearances six of which were starts. His senior debut means that he is no stranger to Bolton-esc score lines as Blackpool went down 7-2 at Vicarage Road. On a serious note that means that he has been there and done that with bad days in the office so hopefully nothing Bolton can do this season will affect him too much, hopefully.
After his loan spell at Blackpool Maher returned to Bolton and took the captains armband for the development squad leading them to Manchester FA Senior Cup success in August.
Maher is a full back by trade who can play on either side of the defence. His main position being right back puts him in a good position to nail down a first team place at Bolton. With Lawrie Wilson and Francesco Pisano both failing to make that position their own this season and with Josh Vela being moved into his natural central midfield position this is very much a position up for grabs.
So far this season Bolton have played at least six different players in the right back position (the aforementioned Wilson, Pisano and Vela along with Derik Osede, Rob Holding and Prince-Desir Gouano). I think it is fair to say that it is something of a problem position for the club and has been for quite some time now with the likes of Kevin McNaughton and Marc Tierney also failing to fill the position in a big part due to injuries.
As a right back coming through our youth system Maher does of course have one hell of a player to live up to. The legendary figure of Nicky Hunt of course is the benchmark for home grown right backs at Wanderers. Jimmy Phillips thinks that Maher does have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of others and become a first team regular; this was said while saying that Maher deserved to make his debut against Reading during the interim bosses post match interview.
Let’s hope that Maher can be the player who can fill the right back position for a while to come and the right back merry go round will come to a long overdue end.
During the first half of his debut against Reading he was noted as one of the players keeping Bolton in an unbelievably one sided match;
Half-time at the Macron. 0-0, we're down to 10, but Amos, Derik and Maher are having blinders to keep us in it— Lion of Vienna Suite (@LionOfViennaSte) 2 April 2016
And if you don’t believe me when I describe the first half as unbelievable one sided check out these Barcelona like possession stats…
This does though contradict the Bolton News’ assessment of the youngster from their player ratings. Marc Iles notes that Maher looked nervous at the start of the game. But he also notes that Maher grew into the match in the second half. One way or another the consensus seems to be that Maher did well on his first team debut and merited his inclusion.
In a match so incredibly one sided the defence must have been doing something right if it takes a 90th minute screamer to settle the match. Also it isn’t really a defenders fault when someone scores from 30 yards out. By all accounts the defensive performance was clearly far superior to what happened last time out which is encouraging.