Liverpool vs. Fulham: Stewart Downing Shines as Anfield's 2012 Action Ends Well

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2012

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22:  Stewart Downing of Liverpool scores his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Fulham at Anfield on December 22, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

If the Mayans had in fact been right and the world had come to a juddering halt on Friday, then knowing the amount of Liverpool home league wins in 2012 would have been pretty far down the priorities list.

The answer would have been five. Hardly a number for a club of the Reds’ stature to be proud of, and certainly not one that they would relish taking to meet their makers—but the world, of course, lived on, and it lived on to see Liverpool turn five into six in their final Anfield match of the non-Mayan calendar year. It seems that everyone was spared for a reason after all.

That reason included seeing Stewart Downing―a man missing, presumed to be waiting for the rapture on top of a mountain for much of 2012 and indeed the latter half of 2011―turn in a fine display as the Reds beat Fulham 4-0 to move into eighth place in the Premier League table, their highest position of the season.

Had the majority of Liverpool’s 2012 visitors been as kind to them as the West Londoners were, then it is safe to say that fans would have enjoyed watching their team at home in the league a lot more over the year. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see the Reds take control of a game through scoring goals and not just through dominating possession―something that Steven Gerrard had made abundantly clear that they needed to start doing in his notes in the matchday programme.

It was Gerrard’s goal which saw them do this, as, having already had a hand in Martin Skrtel’s opener which almost took the Anfield Road End net off, the captain latched onto Downing’s disguised pass and finished well for what felt like a decisive goal even though it came nine minutes before half-time.

That Downing pass was so well disguised that it might well have initially been wearing the mask of one which was intended for the run of Glen Johnson. Regardless of that, it was refreshing to see the winger being given a chance in his best role by Brendan Rodgers, a role which allowed him to cut inside John Arne Riise and blast home Liverpool’s third goal early in the second half.

Former Red Riise had spent the majority of his time waving to appreciative home supporters before that, but he and Fulham were already long beaten by the time of that Downing strike—and certainly by the time the Anfield area was spared the prospect of a Luis Suarez spontaneous combustion when the frustrated Uruguayan finally got the goal that his endless effort had deserved in stoppage time.

He, Gerrard, Suso and Daniel Agger had all been guilty of missing glorious chances before that, but Liverpool and Rodgers shouldn’t get too greedy on an evening when the manager was able to give rests to Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling just a week after bemoaning the fact that the size of his squad meant that he couldn’t afford to.

Additionally, the performance of Downing as he raided down both flanks should encourage the manager that there is life in him yet―he is certainly much more than an uncomfortable looking left-back anyway.  With the win followed by news that Daniel Sturridge will soon undergo a medical ahead of a move from Chelsea (h/t Liverpool Echo), Rodgers can reflect on a job well done.

Fulham were, of course, painfully poor―with Dimitar Berbatov presumably watching the video of Christian Benteke’s terrifically energetic performance in beating Liverpool last weekend and deciding that the complete opposite was called for today―but, as the old cliché goes "you can only beat what is put in front of you," and Liverpool haven’t been doing that too often in 2012.

Rodgers would be wise not to go overboard and claim this final home victory of the year as some sort of definitive step towards challenging for the top four, nor should he be too conservative and play down his side’s chances heading into the new year.

This was nothing but a routine home win, and that isn’t the end of the world.