It was Roy of the Rovers stuff and a very much unexpected scenario, but football often throws up fairytale stories of the outcast returning from the cold to turn a game right when his team needs it the most, and the same can be said about Oumar Niasse’s Everton cameo against Bournemouth this weekend.
Frozen out of the Toffees side by Everton boss Ronald Koeman until this weekend and an excluded name for the club’s 26-man Europa League group stage squad, eyebrows were raised when the Dutchman included the Senegalese in his 25-man Premier League squad after a deadline day transfer to Crystal Palace fell through, 13 months after Koeman himself declared that Niasse had no future at Goodison Park.
Despite taking to the pitch with fiery encouragement from the Everton faithful, nobody inside Goodison Park could have expected the impact that the 27-year-old would make. But the blue contingency of the crowd were roaring his name in the 77th minute after firing a well-taken equaliser into the top-right corner of the goal having been thrown into the fray in place of Wayne Rooney- who’d more than been in the wars over the course of the match- in the 55th minute, six minutes after Joshua King had fired the Cherries in front.
The winner came just five minutes later, after Tom Davies attempted pass looped up into the air and Niasse attempted to head over the line. Asmir Begovic clawed the ball away, but hawk-eye would not be required as Niasse made sure, slotting the rebound home right-footed from inside the six-yard box, turning the game in Everton’s favour having been staring down the barrel at a fourth defeat in six Premier League games.
It is some transformation for the £13.3 million man, who arrived from Lokomotiv Moscow in the January 2016 transfer window short of fitness and putting in cameo performances more akin to Bambi on Ice than a footballer in the waning days of Roberto Martinez’s ill-fated reign on Merseyside. It seemed almost inevitable, therefore, that Ronald Koeman would swing the axe upon taking the helm, and do so he did, banishing him to the club’s Under-23 side and subsequently carting the forward out on loan to struggling Hull City in January 2017.
Niasse failed to supply the firepower necessary to keep the Tigers in the Premier League, but netted four goals during his stay at the KCOM Stadium, which suggested to the Everton faithful that, behind his initially unconvincing frame, there was some quality to be coaxed out of Niasse during his Premier League stint yet.
With goals a rare commodity following an opening day win at Stoke – with a mere two scored in five games – and the Toffees a goal down again, Koeman effectively came down to his last roll of the dice. He had been stubborn on giving Niasse another chance to win over his doubters, but having reinstated him to the bench, he handed the Senegalese his chance, and he gratefully grasped the lifeline with both hands to both the surprise and delight of his manager.
It was Niasse’s first Everton appearance since May 2016, and he netted his first Everton goals having gone six and a half hours of Premier League action without finding one.
One statistic that flagged up immediately after the game is that Everton’s departed goal hero Romelu Lukaku netted a hat-trick in this fixture last season, a convincing 6-3 victory for the Blues. Having been brought back from the cold, Niasse is now being touted as the man to replace him.
Scoring 20 or more goals may still be a big ask for Niasse, but that isn’t to say that this match-winning cameo won’t represent a turning point in his Everton career.
This cameo was an exhibition of everything that Niasse had to offer an Everton side that huffed and puffed and looked toothless up front prior to his introduction. Of course, Koeman’s clever introduction of Jonjoe Kenny and Tom Davies as well helped bring a greater energy and urgency to their general play, but Niasse added that little extra bite up front alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin, showing intelligent movement, a willingness to make runs in behind and press the Bournemouth defence when in possession, as well as make a nuisance of himself in the opposition penalty area with his physical presence.
This could be seen in abundance in both his goals, holding the ball up and holding off his man before emphatically firing home the equaliser, before his aerial ability and physical prowess allowed himself to craft an opportunity for himself following Davies’ hooked ball across goal.
Koeman may still take some convincing to invite Niasse back into his long-term plans having hinted he’d only turn to the Senegalese in times of strife, but a chance is certainly there given his apparent willingness to hand players their chance as he challenges every one of his players to pull their weight in the aim of helping the club fulfil its potential in ‘productivity’, and on Saturday the knives would have been well and truly out were it not for his swift and effective intervention.
Niasse will of course be watching from the stands in Everton’s Europa League group stage clash against Cypriot outfit Apollon Limassol, but will be available for the Premier League showdown against Burnley back at Goodison Park on the 1st October. Having gotten his manager off the hook this weekend, he has certainly given Ronald Koeman food for thought, with the Goodison crowd elevating the forward to cult status following his latest heroics. There may be much hard work still to do on the training ground and on the pitch, but with the confidence this performance will bring the Senegalese, the door may just be left ajar for Niasse at Everton yet.