By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
Stewart Downing scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool as the Reds ended a largely disappointing year on home turf with an overwhelming 4-0 victory over Fulham in their last match at Anfield in 2012. Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard scored before Downing recorded his maiden strike, with Luis Suarez adding a fourth late on.
The win saw the home side move up to eighth as Brendan Rodgers’ side bounced back from their shock defeat against Aston Villa last weekend with an impressive display, albeit against a tame Fulham side, raising hopes that Liverpool can reassert their challenge on the top four, with just 5 points separating them from fourth placed Everton.
The Reds looked like a side determined to atone for last week’s defeat, showing conviction and intensity driven by the resolve to redeem themselves and appease the fans. Daniel Agger headed over from a corner before Jonjo Shelvey saw a flicked effort deflected wide as Liverpool pressed for an early goal, something that eluded them against Aston Villa.
It arrived on 8 minutes. From the resulting Gerrard corner, Skrtel was allowed time and space in the box to control before thundering a volley into the net.
The early goal was some relief, lifting Anfield and breathing confidence into the players as they passed the ball with consumate ease, with Fulham unable to gain any kind of foothold. They should have extended the lead, but a lunging Daniel Agger could only blaze over from Suarez’ low ball across the face of goal.
Pepe Reina was largely untroubled but was almost caught out by Keiran Richardson’s swerving drive, blocking with his legs, before Liverpool scored a deserved second.
The much-maligned Downing was the provider, registering his first League assist after 45 appearances for Liverpool, sliding a pass through the Fulham defence finding the run of Steven Gerrard, who swept a shot past Mark Schwarzer to send the Reds into half-time with a two goal cushion.
Downing’s deflected cross almost set up another goal for Liverpool, but Suarez sent his shot wide from six yards as the home side poured forward, hungry for more.
It was Downing, perhaps hungriest of all with a point to prove, who added the third. The winger cut in from the right wing and drilled a shot past Schwarzer, before celebrating his long-awaited first League goal in front of the Kop.
Downing sent an arrowing long range drive just over and Gerrard fired straight at Schwarzer when the ball fell kindly in the box as Liverpool threatened futher goals, while Suarez was proving a nuisance for the Fulham rearguard, evading defenders while threatening to wriggle past. One burst took him into the area only to be denied by Schwarzer before being thwarted again as the Fulham goalkeeper tipped his free kick past the post.
Reina had to be alert to turn Rodallega’s dead ball wide as Fulham tried in vain for a consolation, before Suarez converted Jose Enrique’s cut back to round off a win that will provide cause for quiet optimism that the future at Anfield will be considerably brighter than some of the dismal scenes that have taken place in front of the Reds faithful over the past twelve months.