Forty-five Premier League matches into his Liverpool career, Stewart Downing finally managed to get his first goal and first assist, and in doing so invited questions about what's been responsible for the recent uptick in his form.
"After our conversation I just thought: 'I have to go for it.' I had nothing to lose. It looked as though I would be on my way in January so basically I had to play well to get a new club. It seems to be coming together now and I am pleased. It has been hard work at times but you have got to keep persevering, stay strong, and I got my reward against Fulham.
"Being told I could go was a kick up the arse. The moment that happens you are playing for a new club and looking for a move, while trying to play well at the same time. It seems to have gone well but I have never wanted to leave Liverpool. But it was out of my hands. The only thing I could do was play well and try and make the manager change his mind."
A few months back we discussed the status of Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing, with the conversation mostly instigated by comments made by Brendan Rodgers regarding where their Liverpool careers were headed. It wasn't very optimistic stuff, with neither seeing regular playing time and talk of the need to strengthen throughout the squad indicating that improvements would occur during the January window rather than as a result of either playing coming good on a more consistent basis.
Jose Enrique proved to be rejuvenated upon returning from injury, however, first in a cameo on the wing and more recently in his more natural role as fullback, and now Stewart Downing, who's been shifted forward, backward, and side-to-side under Rodgers, has turned in arguably his best performance in a Liverpool shirt. Fulham were unquestionably bad, but Downing was a different player, and, in the quotes above, he's attributing his improved performances to the realization that his Liverpool career was destined to be a short one.
And if still very well could be--Saturday's shift was impressive, no doubt, but unless that becomes the norm rather than the exception, it's hard to see how Liverpool could justify hanging onto his wages or his place in the squad. Dominant displays against mid- to lower-table sides that struggle significantly away from home aren't necessarily the foundation for the future, especially one that's come at such a slow, meandering pace.
But the chances will be coming, at least over the next two or three, and if he can manage to display the string of competent and largely decent performances he did prior to Saturday's relative explosion, having him on Liverpool's books past January 31st might not be such a disaster. Not ideal, obviously, and probably overpaying for a squad player.
If he makes the most of his appearances from now until the end of the January window, though, he's got the potential to have a positive impact. I'm indifferent as to where he ends up and have been for some time; if he comes good at Liverpool that's terrific, both for him and the club, but if a better and more reliable option is available, I'd hope the club jump at the chance to bring that player in, and that Stewart Downing has a chance to make an impact elsewhere.