Much digital ink has been spilled dissecting Stewart Downing’s attitude since he spoke of needing to improve his form in order to remain an appealing transfer target for other clubs. His candidness did little to endear him to a fan base that already ran the gamut of emotions from indifference to hostility towards him, but it did seem to have an impact on the pitch as Downing’s improvement in form recently culminated in man of the match honours after his performance in Liverpool’s come from behind win against Spurs last Sunday.
"He's a different player now," said Steven Gerrard after the match. "Now we're seeing Stewart Downing the England international and why he has got all those caps.
"He's a different player and if he can keep producing those type of performances then it will be money well spent. If he keeps to that level of consistency he can make that position in the team his own."
All qualifying "if" statements aside, Gerrard’s assessment of his fellow countryman is a rosy if not wholly unreasonable take on Downing’s progress this season. While many fans have gradually accepted the idea of Downing seeing out the remainder of the season in a red shirt with hopes that the player will depart come the summer, his consistent place in the starting eleven now seems to be based on merit rather than a desperate lack of options.
Like Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers also feels that Downing has carved out a niche for himself in the team which should help catch the eye of those involved with England’s national team set-up.
"I've been delighted with Stewart, he has come into the team and made the position his own. He has been absolutely outstanding," Rodgers said. "There's no doubt about Stewart's qualities and what he's showing at the moment is that fighting spirit, doing all those things that we ask of every player in the team.
"It was a terrific goal at the weekend, how he read the game to press the centre-half and challenge the goalkeeper. It was a wonderful finish with his right foot. It showed his confidence level and how he's playing at the moment and we'll look to keep that going. If he continues this form, I'm very hopeful he'll play himself back into the England team."
Downing will never be the most loved player in the current squad, and for better or worse he seems to have accepted that. For the time being, though, his transition from “yikes” to “serviceable” should see him through the starting eleven until the end of May. Any call-ups to the national team between now and then would be a nice nod to his improvement but perhaps not anything England should build their World Cup 2014 qualification dreams on.