Sunday, 23 December 2012

Stewart Downing Finally Comes Good For Liverpool

Martin SkrtelChristmas came early for Stewart Downing as he ended his Premier League drought in Liverpool's 4-0 thumping of Fulham.

The winger had failed to net in his previous 44 top-flight games but was gifted his side’s third goal by dodgy keeping from Mark Schwarzer.

Fulham’s Aussie stopper let a simple shot fly through his hands in the 51st minute on a miserable day for boss Martin Jol and his side.

Not that Downing was complaining – he played a key role in helping Brendan Rodgers’ team banish the painful memory of last week’s embarrassing 3-0 home defeat by Aston Villa.

After Martin Skrtel netted the eighth-minute opener, it was Downing’s cute pass that set up Steven Gerrard for his second goal in as many games.

The winger’s goal was the icing on the Christmas cake. In truth, though, Liverpool had to work hard for the win.

When you are desperate to put the pain of a home defeat behind you, there is nobody better to see arriving in town than Fulham.

Jol’s side were a nervy mess at corners from the outset. They let Daniel Agger escape and were relieved to see him nod over early on.

There must have been a collective decision not to fall for that one again when Gerrard lined up another corner in the eighth minute. Seeing Agger steam in, both Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes went to try to stop him reaching the ball and were left grounded as it fell to Sktrel.

The Slovakian defender had enough time to take a touch before blasting a shot past Schwarzer for the opener.

Skrtel was the guilty party as Liverpool slumped to defeat in this fixture back in May.

His own-goal was the only score of the match. Fulham have won only once on the road since that victory, beating Wigan back in September.

And, after going behind, their chances of ending a run of one win in nine games looked bleak.

Fulham escaped again as Agger missed out on a simple chance once more.

Gerrard’s shot was deflected into the path of Luis Suarez and the striker’s driven ball across the box caught the Dane off balance and he ballooned his effort over the bar from close range.

Fulham finally sparked into life in the 27th minute. Ashkan Dejagah’s clever ball found Kieran Richardson in space and the midfielder unleashed a powerful shot that Pepe Reina saw late and saved by sticking out his foot.

It was a warning that Liverpool needed a bigger winning margin and the message was heard loud and clear by the men in red shirts.

Downing was the creator, with a touch of vision not normally associated with the winger who has struggled badly since a big-money move from Aston Villa.

It was his first Premier League assist for the club. It may have been a long time coming – but was well worth waiting for.

His reverse pass was perfectly weighted to roll into the path of Gerrard as he charged into the box. And the Liverpool skipper smashed the ball past the exposed Schwarzer.

From then on it was a damage limitation job for the mob from west London – Jol’s side eager not to be on the wrong end of a hiding.

Suso should have added a third in the 39th minute but snatched at his shot and hooked it wide.

Suarez was then denied by the keeper after taking him on from a tight angle.

The Liverpool striker is on a bit of a barren run having not scored in his previous six games.

And he won’t get many better chances to net than the one that dropped to him directly after the break.

Downing’s shot was deflected and looped up to the far post where Suarez was lurking and the Uruguayan was left cursing himself for hammering his effort wide.

It did not matter. With 51 minutes on the clock, Gerrard picked out Downing on the right and he cut into the box before hitting the third.

Fulham nearly snatched a consolation with Hugo Rodallega drilling a free-kick against the post in stoppage time.

But Liverpool responded superbly.

Spanish full-back Jose Enrique drove into the box and cut the ball back for Suarez to net – breaking his mini-drought in the process.

It was the perfect start to Christmas for the red half of Merseyside.

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