At the start of the season, most fans assumed Stewart Downing's name was one of the three mysterious placed in envelopes by the manager—people he said at the time would "let the team down." When the January transfer window rolled around, most assumed he would be on his way out by the end of it.
Now, with only six games left in Liverpool's season, he finds himself one of the first names on Brendan Rodgers' teamsheet, a fixture on the right and regularly taking a place in the starting eleven from the likes of Daniel Sturridge or Jordan Henderson. Not all have been won over, perhaps, but it's clear the manager has been. And in the end, that's all that really matters.
“He took ill yesterday, but he wanted to give it a go. He’s in good form at the moment,” said Rodgers following Sunday's whimpering draw with West Ham at Anfield, one that had seen Downing off after only 25 minutes thanks to an unexplained ailment.
Downing had appeared off the pace at the time but wasn't carrying any obvious knocks, leading to speculation as to just what was wrong with the winger and what his availability might be moving forward. Only suffering from a virus in the end, it means he will be expected to face Reading on Saturday.
“He took some tablets but when he was out there, he was very weak," added the manager. "When he came off you could see it in him that he wasn’t feeling well.”
As was the case with Joe Allen before he underwent surgery for a shoulder that had been hindering his play since the autumn, some fans will be left wondering why Rodgers' felt a less than fully fit Downing was a better option to start than the likes of Sturridge, Jonjo Shelvey, or Suso.