Niki Maenpaa is expected to join Stoke City in the next few days as cover and competition for the first team following injuries to Adam Davies and Angus Gunn.
England under-21s keeper Joe Bursik has been recalled from loan at Doncaster Rovers and made his debut in a 4-3 win over Huddersfield at the weekend but, with still no definite return dates for Davies and Gunn, Michael O’Neill has been keen to bring more immediate experience into the department.
Maenpaa is free after ending a two-year spell at Bristol City at the end of last season so we have asked BristolLive sports editor James Piercy what to expect from the 35-year-old.
What’s the story of Niki Maenpaa at Bristol City?
James Piercy: Signed in similar-ish circumstances to what Stoke are experiencing as Bristol City picked him up on a free just before the start of the 2018/19 season due to a hip injury to Frank Fielding who was the number one and a well-established figure and personality at the club.
The 2018/19 season was a strange one in terms of goalkeepers as the Robins never really had a defined number one; Fielding didn’t return until January and then got injured again, while Maenpaa also sustained a calf problem around March of that season and young Max O’Leary (who’s since replaced Maenpaa as number two) stepped up.
There was also the forgettable debut of Stefan Marinovic, who was signed on an emergency loan and came, saw and sliced a few goal kicks before never to be seen again.
By the time Maenpaa got fit again, the club had signed Dan Bentley from Brentford as Lee Johnson wanted that defined and recognised first-choice.
However, during his second campaign Maenpaa won his place back as Bentley’s form wobbled around February before lockdown, and he would have ended the season in goal if not for a bad ankle injury at Nottingham Forest in July.
What are his strengths?
It’s a bit boring in a way but he’s just a really solid keeper; a 7/10-er across the board.
Makes some fine stops, is good one-on-one, has that awareness of his area, will organise his defence and possesses strong handling and all the fundamentals.
He’s not outrageously tall (around 6ft 2), so can sometimes be tested by big hanging crosses to the back post but that’s nit-picking, really.
His experience means he’s a plug-in-and-play option who won’t be fazed by dressing rooms or personalities. He’s just a low-key, humble kind of guy who seems to get on with everybody.
And all that counts against him, in a way, because he’s not a modern distributor, nor will he try and use his feet beyond what’s absolutely necessary.
He’s just a good, orthodox, consistent goalkeeper who was a popular figure to players and coaches and is a really good professional.
How is he thought of by Bristol City fans?
He left – with his departure delayed as the club helped him through his rehab even though he was out of contract – with a degree of sadness among the fanbase because he never really let anyone down and, if anything, would have played more games if circumstances had been right.
I think there would still be a small section of the support who’d maybe even rate him higher than Bentley – certainly the case during spells last season – but that opinion is also probably now diminishing a little because Bentley’s been very good this term.
There would have been an overall desire to keep him around the club but, at the same time, there’s an understanding that would hold O’Leary back, who’s been earmarked for the number two spot for a while now.I think the word to sum it up would be respect.
He wasn’t a huge fan favourite or anything, but did provide a feeling of security when he played and his understated, no frills style meant supporters warmed to him.
Although Stoke are a fellow Championship team I think they’ll be pleased he’s got himself a good, strong club because he deserves it.