Liverpool 4 Fulham 0: Jol's men crash and burn as Downing turns on the style
20:59 GMT, 22 December 2012
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.
Reds in raptures Liverpool will be smiling over Christmas after a comprehensive victory
Good start: Martin Skrtel fired in after some poor defending to get Liverpool on their way
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Gerrard, Lucas, Shelvey, Fernandez Saez, Suarez, Downing.
Subs: Jones, Sahin, Henderson, Carragher, Allen, Sterling, Wisdom.
Booked: Glen Johnson.
Goals: Skrtel 8, Gerrard 36, Downing 51, Suarez 90.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise, Kacaniklic, Karagounis, Baird, Richardson, Dejagah, Berbatov.
Subs: Stockdale, Senderos, Kasami, Briggs, Rodallega, Frei, Tavares.
Booked: Karagounis, Dejagah.
Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)
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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
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.
Lashed home: Martin Skrtel's strike flew past Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal
Doubling up: Steven Gerrard tucked home the second goal with a cool finish
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.
Leading the way: The Liverpool skipper celebrates his goal with Luis Suarez (and below)
Gerrard celebrates with Suarez
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.
Impressive: Brendan Rodgers will be delighted with his side's performance
In on the act: Stuart Downing fired home the third
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.
Taking the plaudits: Downing played extremely well as Liverpool romped to victory
Down he goes: Suarez falls to the ground
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.
Hard times: Dimitar Berbatov (right) was ineffectual as the Cottagers struggled