- Premier League
Downing relishing second chance
Stewart Downing believes he is in the best form of his Liverpool career after a frank chat with manager Brendan Rodgers saved him from an Anfield exit.
The England international was told earlier this season that he could leave the club during the January transfer window after failing to hold down a regular place in the side.
Rodgers was prepared to cut his losses on the winger, who was linked with a loan move to Championship side Middlesbrough, his first club, in November.
But Downing, signed from Aston Villa for £20 million by Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 2011, has turned his career around since then.
He has started each of Liverpool's last eight league games, and is showing signs of forming a dangerous attacking front three with Luis Suarez and new signing Daniel Sturridge, brought in from Chelsea at the start of January.
Asked if he felt he was in the best form of his Liverpool career, Downing told the club website: "I'd probably say so. The first season was patchy, I was in and out, but this year since I came back into the side it's been consistently quite good. It's probably because the team is playing quite well that it's all come together. A good run of games has been good for me. I think I've proven in my career that if I play regularly, I tend to give good and consistent performances."
Downing failed to score or even provide an assist during his first 44 Premier League games for Liverpool, a run that stretched over his first season-and-a-half at Anfield. In September, Rodgers publicly questioned whether the 28-year-old had the fight to be a first-team regular.
Downing admitted that he was stung by that criticism, and again when Rodgers told him he could find a new club. But the winger gave credit to the manager for being so honest with him during that conversation.
He said: "It was very open. I wasn't in the team or playing and he said to me that maybe I could look elsewhere because I need to play at my age. I didn't totally agree, but I understood where he was coming from. Obviously he needs players who are going to play and not be sat about, but I thought in the back of my mind that if I got a chance I could prove myself to him. Luckily enough, I did in the next week or so after that."
Downing scored his first league goal for the club - and provided his first league assist too - during the 4-0 win over Fulham on December 22, and is looking to continue improving. He added: "It was disappointing because I was in and out, in and out and it was becoming a bit frustrating at times. But the best thing is playing in a winning team - and playing with good players helps. There's consistency in the whole team, which is helping my game as well.
"My aim every game is to make the manager not leave me out. The only way to do that is to perform well. I've basically had nothing to lose in games and I think that's helped me over the last few weeks and long may it continue."