BANISHED to train with the Under-23s at Everton last summer and not even assigned a squad number or locker at the training ground, Oumar Niasse could have been forgiven for falling out of love with football.
But the Senegalese striker, the third most expensive signing in the Merseyside club’s history at £13.5m, refused to be beaten down despite being turned into a footballing pariah at Goodison Park.
He kept smiling, remained positive and the benefit of that attitude is now being felt by Hull City.
Four goals in 10 appearances for the Premier League’s third lowest scorers means Niasse is emerging from the gloom of that very public rejection by Ronald Koeman. More importantly, the club he joined on loan in January are finally able to see a possible route towards top-flight safety after moving to within one victory of three relegation rivals.
“This was a big win for us,” said Niasse, who managed just 152 minutes on the pitch in a miserable 12 months at Goodison Park. “Swansea were six points ahead of us (before kick-off) and if they beat us we knew it would be very difficult (to catch them). So, it was a good reaction from us.”
Koeman, newly arrived from Southampton in July, took just 45 minutes of a pre-season friendly to make his mind up about Niasse.
Considering the struggles the striker had endured in his first few months following that big-money move from Lokomotiv Moscow, most Everton supporters were not unduly surprised.
Observers of Russian football, however, most certainly were, as they remembered a very different striker who possessed tenacious spirit and an ability to unsettle even the calmest of defences.
Niasse, after all, had arrived on Merseyside as Russia’s ‘Player of the Year’ thanks to his goal-scoring exploits with Lokomotiv. It was that feted striker and not the Everton misfit who Marco Silva recalled when attempting to solve Hull’s goal-scoring problems in January.
“It was a difficult time at Everton,” added Niasse. “I was in the dressing room with the Under-23s, playing with them and travelling with them all the time. It was difficult but I always kept smiling and always kept a positive mind.
“When I arrived at Hull, it was difficult. But now I am getting more and more confident. Hopefully, by the end of the season, I will get my level (of performance) back and help the team stay in the Premier League. That is our target.”
With West Ham, Middlesbrough, Watford and Sunderland all due at the KCOM before Spurs are the final-day visitors, City’s form on home soil is likely to decide their fate.
“The important thing (at home) is the fans push us to always give our best,” added Niasse after taking Hull’s points tally under Silva on home soil to 10 from four games. “Taking the three points at home is the only way we can stay in the Premier League.”
If Niasse can maintain the form that brought a third victory of the season over Swansea for Hull then the East Riding may well be staging top-flight football once again come August.
Hopefully, by the end of the season, I will get my level (of performance) back and help the team stay in the Premier League. That is our target.Hull City striker Oumar Niasse
He took just seven minutes to break the deadlock after being brought off the bench by Silva. Omar Elabdellaoui deserves huge credit for his role early in the move, the full-back collecting the ball on the edge of the Tigers’ penalty area before weaving a path towards halfway.
After that, though, it was all about Niasse’s vision and execution as he exchanged passes with Abel Hernandez before racing clear to beat Lukasz Fabianski with aplomb.
Up to that point, Swansea had seemed more likely to get the all-important first goal with Wayne Routledge having been presented with two excellent opportunities he spurned either side of half-time and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s wide array of passing skills causing the home defence all manner of problems.
Niasse’s goal, however, changed everything and it was little surprise when the Tigers doubled their advantage 12 minutes from time.
Again, Niasse displayed wonderful technique to, first, control Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross with a sublime touch before drilling an unstoppable shot past Fabianski.
The game was won, former Barnsley defender Alfie Mawson’s header in the first of four minutes of stoppage time a mere postscript to an afternoon that belonged to Niasse.
He will not be involved at Everton on Saturday due to the terms of his loan switch. The striker, though, plans to be there as City look to improve a wretched record on the road that has yielded just one point from their last 12 away games.
“It is a little bit frustrating,” said the 26-year-old, whose other two strikes for the Tigers came in home wins over Liverpool and Manchester United.
“When you come in and score two goals, your confidence is a bit like 100 per cent. So, it is a bit sad I can’t play next week but I am an Everton player so I have to follow the rules and I just hope it is going to be a good game.”