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Liverpool winger Stewart Downing had a day to remember at Anfield as his first Barclays Premier League goal for the club wrapped up a comfortable 4-0 victory over Fulham
Only last week the England international had admitted he may leave next month after manager Brendan Rodgers said he would not stand in his way if he wanted to leave.
If that was the incentive to put himself in the shop window it worked as he registered his first league assist in setting up Steven Gerrard - after Martin Skrtel’s opener - and capped his performance with a goal of his own before Luis Suarez added an injury-time fourth.
Downing, for whom this was a sixth Premier League appearance of the season, has mostly been confined to UEFA Europa League involvement and has even been played at left-back occasionally, but in a more familiar advanced right-wing role he was able to showcase some of his talent with his first assist and goal in 17 months and 45 league matches at the club.
In fairness Fulham, who have won just one of their last nine Premier League matches and only one of their last 10 away from home, were not at their best.
Martin Jol’s side left holes all over the pitch and, unlike Aston Villa last week, who were rewarded for all their harrying and hustling with a 3-1 win, Liverpool had plenty of time to take advantage.
As a result they moved up to eighth in the table, their highest position of the season, and five points adrift of the top four.
Unlike the previous week when Liverpool dominated the opening half-hour but failed to score and paid the price they got the break they needed early on.
Gerrard’s eighth-minute corner picked out Skrtel, who was left unmarked as John Arne Riise collided with Brede Hangeland, enabling the Slovakia international to bring the ball down and smash a volley past Mark Schwarzer.
The centre-back was then required in the penalty area he is more comfortable in when he slid to block former Liverpool reserve Alex Kacaniklic’s shot.
Daniel Agger’s miss from just three yards - blazing into the top tier of the Anfield Road stand from Luis Suarez’s cross - may have resurrected fears about the hosts not being clinical enough in front of goal, and, at the other end, goalkeeper Jose Reina almost made a mess of Kieran Richardson’s swerving shot, diving one way and having to save with his legs.
But those insecurities were put to bed in the 36th minute with Downing’s first significant intervention. The England international’s brilliantly-disguised reverse pass from the edge of the penalty area deceived everyone except Gerrard and the Liverpool captain seized on the flat-footedness of Fulham’s defenders to clip a shot across Schwarzer and just inside the far post.
Suso scuffed a shot wide and Suarez fired straight at the goalkeeper before the interval but within six minutes of the second half the result was put beyond any doubt.
Gerrard, who had one of his better days spraying passes all over the field, picked out Downing on the right wing and he cut inside before unleashing a fierce shot.
The 28-year-old played like a man with a point to prove at times and saw another blistering drive sail just over the angle of crossbar and post.
Schwarzer did well to block Gerrard’s close-range shot as Liverpool continued to press, while Reina did less well with Berbatov’s long-range effort which squirmed from his grasp and required Skrtel to clear.
But that was a rare moment of concern on what was a trouble-free evening as Liverpool recorded only their fourth home league win of the season when Suarez side-footed home in added time for his 11th Premier League goal of the season - equalling his tally from the whole of last season.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We were outstanding today. I knew we would get a reaction [to being beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa last week] because I have very honest players here, working very hard every day.
"Last week was disappointing but this week we have had our first clear week of work and we have worked through from Saturday to Saturday and I think you saw the reaction today. The pressing was outstanding and the quality of the football and the goals were brilliant.
"Stewart was brilliant today, in every aspect of the game. I spoke to Stewart about six or seven weeks ago and we had an honest conversation about where he was at. He's in his late 20s, he was an England international a few years ago and he wasn't playing.
"So we spoke about how he could get into the team. And his reaction from that moment, like it has been for Jose Enrique and one or two of the others, has been outstanding. His goal today was a fantastic strike and he combines very well with Glen Johnson out on the right side because he clears space for Glen to run into.
"Stewart's movement is really intelligent and his pass for Steven's (Gerrard) goal was superb. You'll find with attacking players, because their job is always to take people on, if it's not quite happening for them, they need that bit of support. But all they can do is work hard.
"Stewart has played a lot of games. He's a very important member of our group at the minute and if he keeps performing like that, hopefully he'll establish himself in [the side and show the talent he clearly has. If he keeps playing like that, he'll be going nowhere - he'll be staying in the team and that's what it's about."
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "You could say if we concede goals like we did today you are almost playing against yourself. We wanted to put them under pressure but we didn't do that in the first half. It was as if we had played together for the first time.
"We still have a good cushion [to the bottom three] with 20 points but when everyone is back we will be fine. We have the same points as last year but we have to do better than today."
|26 Dec 2012||v Stoke (A)|
|30 Dec 2012||v QPR (A)|
|02 Jan 2013||v Sunderland (H)|
|13 Jan 2013||v Man Utd (A)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Arsenal (A)|