Joy for Janssen and Niasse, woe for Middlesbrough, shame for Millwall
It was a big weekend for previously-maligned strikers and not such a good one for struggling Middlesbrough. Iain Macintosh looks at the Heroes & Villains.
It has taken 30 appearances, but Tottenham's £17 million striker Vincent Janssen has finally scored from open play. His goal against League One side Millwall, leading to unkind suggestions on social media that he had found his level in English football but perhaps we should not be so quick to mock. With Harry Kane injured and Janssen's confidence growing, could this be a turning point? Is he the man whose goals will fire... Ha! No, it's no good. I thought I could get through that with a straight face, but alas, no.
Speaking of misfiring strikers suddenly finding their range, well done Oumar Niasse. He flopped at Everton, scoring precisely no goals and making such an impression on manager Ronald Koeman that he was refused a squad number and sent to train with the kids, but Hull boss Marco Silva took a chance and was rewarded vs. Swansea with Niasse's dramatic, nine-minute brace that earned three crucial points. What a shame that on-loan Niasse won't be allowed to play when Hull face Everton next weekend.
By thunder, Bournemouth needed that win vs. West Ham. Without a league victory in 2017, they were sinking swiftly into a relegation battle that no-one could have foreseen when they led Arsenal 3-0 on Jan. 3. They made hard work of it on Saturday -- missing two penalties! -- but Josh King's hat trick, capped with a dramatic late winner, gave them what they deserved. With just 30 points on the board, Bournemouth are not safe but at least the mood has changed. They've remembered how to win.
Everton took a giant step towards making seventh their own, wiping the floor with West Brom to move seven points ahead of the Baggies. But could they go higher? They're only two points behind Manchester United and three adrift of Arsenal. Since their apparently season-ending FA Cup defeat to Leicester in January, Koeman's side have picked up 17 points from a possible 24. They have no distractions, no pressure and nothing to lose. And they play the clubs above them before the season ends.
For 45 minutes, non-league Lincoln City kept Champions League regulars Arsenal at bay, frustrating their anxious fans and giving hope to the millions of "neutrals" hoping for the ultimate FA Cup shock. Sadly, Theo Walcott scored on the brink of half-time and Lincoln's eight-game run ended in a thrashing. But there's more to come. The main objective, a return to the Football League, is still in the balance. Keep an eye on the Cowley brothers, the masterminds of all this. A bigger job beckons soon.
Swansea manager Paul Clement tried hard to avoid singling out Wayne Routledge for criticism after the defeat at Hull, but his frustration shone through. Routledge could be forgiven for his first miss -- actually a fine save from Eldin Jakupovic -- but the second was unforgivable. Routledge should hang his head. That way, the next time he has a similarly simple chance, he'll have his body over the ball and will thus avoid leaning back and blasting it wildly over the bar.
Despite their win, Hull have problems developing. Silva hit out at his own club for allowing rugby league games to be hosted at the KCOM stadium, insisting that it was "impossible" for that to happen at this level. While several football clubs have groundshared with rugby clubs in recent years, including Watford and Reading, he's right: It's hardly ideal, especially for a team that likes to play swift, counter-attacking football. How long before Silva moves to a club with a pitch that looks less like a ploughed field?
Middlesbrough's misery continues. There was talk of the FA Cup providing a springboard for Aitor Karanka's embattled side but, within minutes of kickoff, they were behind vs. Manchester City. Perhaps no one really expected them to come back, but a goal might have been nice. This was the third game in a row in which Boro drew a blank. In fact, they've only scored nine goals in all of 2017 and seven of them were against lower-league opposition. The future looks bleak and relegation beckons.
West Brom are the latest victims of that perennial Premier League illness: "40-Point Disease." The disorder first came to prominence in the early part of the 21st century when Charlton Athletic repeatedly put 40 points on the board before slipping into woeful late-season form. Since Tony Pulis' side reached the mark in February with a fine win over Bournemouth, the illness has taken hold. West Brom have lost two straight now and, with Arsenal and Man United next, it could get worse before it gets better.
There are lots of Millwall supporters who are good, decent people loyally following their team. But there is a group within the group who continue to let them down. First, flashpoints marred a win over Leicester in February, now there's the sustained racial abuse of Tottenham's Son Heung-Min during Sunday's FA Cup sixth-round tie. Son forward provided a magnificent riposte, hitting a hat trick, but the FA is likely to take disciplinary action against Millwall. After an excellent run, it's a shame this will get the headlines.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.