Day to remember for Downing as Pool batter Fulham
Liverpool 4 Fulham 0
Liverpool winger Stewart Downing had a rare day to remember at Anfield as his first Barclays Premier League goal for the club wrapped up a comfortable victory.
Only last week the England international had admitted he may leave next month after manager Brendan Rodgers said he could go.
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.
The £20million signing has been held up as an example of Liverpool’s wastefulness in the transfer market over the last few years.
Previous manager Kenny Dalglish certainly did not get his money’s worth out of the winger and Rodgers has so far hardly attempted to as this was only Downing’s sixth Premier League start of his reign.
He has mostly been confined to the Europa League and has even been played at left-back occasionally as Rodgers tried to find some use for him.
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 league matches and only one of their last 10 away from home, were very accommodating and festively came bearing gifts aplenty.
Martin Jol’s side left gaping 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 had barely moved, and with former Reds full-back John Arne Riise slow to close down the Slovakia international he brought the ball down and smashed a volley past 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 not being clinical enough in front of goal.
Goalkeeper Jose Reina almost making a mess of Kieran Richardson’s swerving shot, diving one way and having to save with his legs, served as another warning.
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.
Liverpool’s captain seized on the flatfootedness 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 blasting home a shot which appeared to release months of pent-up frustration.
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 a Liverpool continued to press, 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 league goal of the season - equalling his tally from the whole of last season.