Premier League - Downing stars as Liverpool hammer Fulham

Premier League, Anfield - Liverpool 4 (Skrtel 8, Gerrard 36, Downing 51, Suarez 90+2') Fulham 0

Stewart Downing was Liverpool's unlikely inspiration as he claimed his first Premier League goal and assist for the club in a 4-0 win over Fulham at Anfield.

The winger has been linked with a possible move to Championship side Middlesbrough in January but produced the finest performance of his mediocre Liverpool career to lift the club to eighth in the table and suggest that he may yet be of some use to Brendan Rodgers.

After Martin Skrtel had put Liverpool in front with a thunderous finish from a corner, Downing played in Steven Gerrard with a glorious pass before hammering home his own effort after 51 minutes. The rout was complete in injury time when Luis Suarez claimed a deserved fourth.

In truth, Fulham were dreadful for long periods, defeat putting them 13th in the table. Meanwhile Liverpool's resounding response to a 3-1 defeat to Villa last weekend, orchestrated by the rejuvenated Downing, gives then renewed hope of a European finish.

Rodgers had identified the need to give his favoured ball-player Joe Allen and the now well-remunerated Raheem Sterling a rest, so Jose Enrique and Suso were brought into the side following last weekend's 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa, with the Spaniard operating on the left and Downing on the right.

Liverpool made a fast start against a lacklustre Fulham side and found themselves in front after only eight minutes. Skrtel was left free from a corner - so free in fact he was able to pull it down and then smash home a ferocious volley from just eight yards out.

The lively Downing then saw a lovely effort touched onto the side netting by Mark Schwarzer, before Daniel Agger was guilty of a horrendous miss when he failed to poke the ball home from only five yards out after Luis Suarez had drilled the ball across the face of goal.

Fulham were struggling to get foot on ball, with Dimitar Berbatov horribly isolated in attack, and had only a meek effort from Kieran Richardson to enjoy in the first half, Jose Reina producing a rather unconvincing save with his feet.

Liverpool were sparky in possession and Fulham's inability to mount any consistent threat allowed the home side to become confident too. That much was clear on 36 minutes when Downing claimed his first Premier League assist for the club after 45 matches in imperious fashion.

Channelling Xavi, the winger allowed his gaze to drift left before quickly rolling the ball right and playing a straight pass through the heart of the Fulham defence, apparently to no one. However, he had spotted a perfectly-timed run from Gerrard, who strode through a crowd of players before tucking it into the far corner.

After an insipid first half, Fulham were almost as poor after the break and Suarez should have extended Liverpool's lead when latching onto a deflected Downing cross at the back post, only to slam his shot woefully wide.

On 51 minutes they did have a third though. Downing was allowed to drift in from the right and cut onto his left, unleashing a ferocious drive from inside the box that flew past Schwarzer. The relief on his face was plain as he celebrated his first league goal for the club.

Fulham improved marginally thereafter. Liverpool were restricted to a shot from Gerrard that Schwarzer saved at his near post and a poked effort from Suarez after he wriggled away from both Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Meanwhile, Berbatov even had two shots on target - even if neither really troubled Jose Reina.

A flurry of action in injury time saw Reina claw out a free-kick from Hugo Rodallega before Suarez completed the scoring when converting from close range following excellent work from Enrique as he navigated his way along the byline following a short corner.

The sight of Suarez wheeling away in celebration was a familiar one for Anfield regulars; Downing dominating proceedings less so.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Stewart Downing (Liverpool): A goal, an assist and an all-round display of excellence from the much-maligned winger.

PLAYER RATINGS

LIVERPOOL: Reina 5, Johnson 6, Skrtel 7, Agger 6, Enrique 8, Lucas 7, Gerrard 7, Suso 6, Shelvey 7, Downing 8, Suarez 7. Subs: Sterling 7, Allen 6, Carragher 6.

FULHAM: Schwarzer 7, Riether 5, Hughes 6, Hangeland 5, Riise 5, Kacaniklic 5, Baird 5, Karagounis 5, Richardson 5, Dejagah 5, Berbatov 5. Subs: Rodallega 6, Frei 6.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS