LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 03: Liverpool FC present new signing Stewart Downing at a press conference at Melwood Training Ground on August 03, 2011 in Liverpool , England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
"The ball fell to me and I thought about how the manager has been saying to come inside and get a shot off," said Stewart Downing after Thursday's victory over FC Gomel in Belarus, "so that's what I was looking to do. Luckily for me it went in. I was happy with the strike. It was a tough game, which is what we were expecting. They made it hard for us, but our patience paid off.
Given that when playing from the right Downing seems to alternate solely between driving to the byline and floating in right-footed crosses or cutting in and firing shots from distance, it might be a bit of a stretch to give too much credit to any advice from Brendan Rodgers unless it was that Downing continue doing exactly what he did all last year. Still, though, it will have been encouraging for Liverpool's much maligned winger to kick off the new season with a goal after a frustrating 2011-12 campaign.
We kept the ball," he continued, "kept moving it, and we got our reward with the goal. They gave us a good test and fitness-wise it was good for us. A lot of the lads played their first 90 minutes, so it was a good test for us and probably something we needed with the season only two weeks away."
Again there might be room to quibble when Downing talks of the team keeping the ball moving well and deserving the reward of a goal in the end given that for much of the match Gomel looked the better side, but it's hard to disagree with him when he touches on the fitness benefits. For most of the players, Thursday's game marked their first full ninety minutes of action, and for returning internationals like Downing, Henderson, Gerrard, and Borini it was only the second chance they'd had to play after joining up with the club's pre-season preparations already half done.
Sometimes, then, the win is all that really matters, and it's hard to complain too strenuously about the route to get to it—even if, contrary to anything suggested by Stewart Downing in the aftermath, Liverpool probably didn't deserve it. And even if the goal he scored seemed to be far more about the player doing the same things he's always done than picking up on anything Brendan Rodgers has been telling him over the past week and a half.