Downing ends drought in Fulham rout
Liverpool winger Stewart Downing finally ended his Premier League goal drought as the Reds swept to a 4-0 victory over Fulham at Anfield on Saturday.
Downing had gone 44 league matches without a goal since joining from Aston Villa in a £20 million deal in 2011 that has been widely ridiculed as a major mistake by then Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish.
Brendan Rodgers, who replaced Dalglish at Anfield in the close-season, had fared no better with the under-achieving England international and Downing last week revealed he has been told he can leave the club.
But the 28-year-old started against Fulham and seized the chance to put himself in the shop window.
After Martin Skrtel lashed in Liverpool's opener early in the first half, Downing set up England captain Steven Gerrard for the second goal with a fine pass and then bagged the third himself after the break.
It was just his fifth goal for Liverpool, the others coming in the FA Cup and Europa League, and his first in the top-flight since he scored for Villa against his current club in May 2011.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it, do the best I can and give the manager a problem," Downing said.
Liverpool's biggest victory of the season was the ideal response to last weekend's dismal 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa and lifted the Reds to eighth place, five points behind fourth-placed local rivals Everton.
"Every level of our game was fantastic," Rodgers said. "The quality of our football was terrific. I knew we would get a reaction today because of the honesty of the group.
"I thought Stewart Downing was brilliant. We had a conversation about six weeks ago and said if he is not a regular then we will look at it January."
It helped that Fulham, notoriously bad travellers, came bearing gifts in the form of a wide-open defence that Liverpool exploited time and again.
The hosts needed only eight minutes to take the lead when a Gerrard corner picked out Skrtel, and with former Reds full-back John Arne Riise slow to close down the Slovakia defender he brought the ball down and smashed a volley past Mark Schwarzer.
Daniel Agger was unable to emulate his central defensive partner as the Dane fired over from Suarez's cross.
But Downing's first significant intervention helped Liverpool take total control in the 36th minute.
Downing's superb reverse pass from the edge of the penalty area deceived everyone except Gerrard and the Liverpool captain ran clear to clip a shot across Schwarzer and just inside the far post.
Any doubts about the result were erased in the 51st minute when Gerrard picked out Downing on the right flank and the winger cut inside before blasting home a shot which appeared to release months of pent-up frustration.
Downing 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.
Rodgers' side sealed only their fourth home league win of the season when Uruguay forward Luis Suarez side-footed home in stoppage-time for his 11th league goal of the season.