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The winger has struck the woodwork three times for the Reds already this season and his assists tally has fallen victim to some wasteful finishing from his team-mates

PROFILE
By David Lynch

It’s difficult to gauge quite what effect the return of Kenny Dalglish has had on Liverpool yet. Though the nature of his first few fixtures indicated a miraculous turnaround, the start of this season has been perhaps less extraordinary.

What the Scot has achieved, however, has stretched beyond the simple ‘dead cat bounce’ enjoyed during a new manager’s opening spell. He has in fact succeeded where his predecessor Roy Hodgson failed; in steadying the Liverpool ship.

However, it is inconsistency - such as playing well and taking four points against Chelsea and Manchester City then losing to Fulham -which betrays the club’s nature as a work in progress. One player who perhaps represents this undergoing transformation better than any other is Stewart Downing.

Signed in the summer for an eye-catching £20 million, the winger has struggled to make his mark at Anfield thus far. He has typified the solid football, often without end product, which Dalglish’s side have been proponents of since August.

Without doubt the wideman’s job is to weigh in with assists and goals to help the Merseysiders at the cutting-edge end of the pitch and so it is only fair that he takes his share of the blame for the Reds’ woes.

DOWNING DOWN THE YEARS

 MIDDLESBROUGH
SEASON
2007-08
2008-09

GAMES
38
37

GOALS
9
0

ASSISTS
5
3

 ASTON VILLA
SEASON
2009-10
2010-11

GAMES
25
38

GOALS
2
7

ASSISTS
1
7

 LIVERPOOL
SEASON
2011-12
GAMES
14
GOALS
0
ASSISTS
0
Downing has yet to notch in either statistics column in his 14 league appearances his new club. When a move to take the winger from Aston Villa was mooted, it was no doubt the seven assists and seven goals he bagged last season which had piqued the interest of the Liverpool coaching staff.

These were the best overall statistics posted by the winger in his career and were seemingly indicative of a man entering his peak, one who could thrive when providing service for a more talented, more expensively-assembled frontline. This has yet to prove the case.

Downing has found himself the victim of a frustrating curse so far this season, having hit the woodwork three times - more than any other Premier League player.

Against Sunderland, in the first game of the season, a classy run from the right ended in his piledriver smashing the bar. Against Stoke, his clever near post drive had Asmir Begovic wrong-footed but clipped the base of the post, and against Fulham his smash from range (amongst a hoard of defenders) was brilliantly pushed onto the post by Mark Schwarzer. All games where Downing went close and all resulted in the Reds dropping points.

That said; Downing’s troubles are not entirely of his own making. The winger would most certainly have several assists to his name already had it not been for some rather careless finishing throughout the team. Most notably striker Andy Carroll managed to put a perfect delivery onto the crossbar from six yards against Swansea at Anfield, a game which, of course, the Reds did not win.

Downing has been a hair’s breadth from vital, game-changing, goals on numerous occasions and conveys the fine margins which have kept Liverpool from a challenge for third place in the Premier League rather than fourth and fifth.

Goal.com's North-East Correspondent Rob Stewart has followed Downing's career from his days as a youngster at Middlesbrough, and believes he has sufficient character to turn tide.

“It might take him time but he will eventually click at Anfield because not only does he have the requisite skills to become a favourite on Merseyside but he also has the right personality," says Stewart.

"Here is as down-to-earth a character as you could get and that will stand him in good stead to become a darling of the Kop although it may take him fair amount of time to really express himself - mark my words, that will come.”

And it is this factor which perhaps draws the biggest link between each of Dalglish’s buys in the summer. The Reds may not yet be firing on all cylinders but they have sufficient character in the squad to alleviate the Scot’s worries.

Downing is a solid Premier League player, a proven performer and guaranteed numbers in an attacking sense but above all that he is also one of the most determined characters in football.

If his recently improved performances for England, coming after years of criticism and "not good enough" jibes are not proof enough then maybe his upcoming, perhaps inevitable, turn in form for the Reds will be.

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