Downing desperate for good run

March 13, 2013

Stuttgart travelled to Rome on Wednesday for the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie with Lazio refusing to throw in the towel after a 2-0 reverse at home last Thursday.

The first-leg result means Stuttgart must score at least twice in Italy to stand any chance of going through, but their away form in the competition so far gives them belief that their European campaign will not necessarily end on Thursday night.

The Swabians won 5-1 at Steaua Bucharest in a decisive group stage fixture while a 2-0 win in Genk saw them through the round of 32 after a 1-1 draw at home.

With nine goals scored on their travels opposed to just three at home, Bruno Labbadia's side have built their Europa League fortune away from their Mercedes-Benz Arena, which is why they are not going to just take in the sights in the Eternal City on Thursday night.

"I would certainly not rule out us going through," said defender Georg Niedermeier.

"We go into every game to win it. The situation is certainly not ideal, but when we are on the pitch, the only thing we thing about is winning.

"We will try to make the impossible possible."

Barcelona's 4-0 win over AC Milan on Tuesday night, which came after a 2-0 defeat in the first leg, will be a source of inspiration to the Bundesliga club.

"Lazio are a strong side and that reduces our chances somewhat of course, but it starts at 0-0 and if we can get the first goal, then it would become tight for them," Niedermeier added on his club's website.

Lazio will certainly not take the game lightly, even if coach Vladimir Petkovic is considering a few changes to his side after their weekend defeat to Fiorentina.

"We must not take to the field as if it is a friendly game," he said.

"We need to find the right motivation to keep our attention high.

"We must not think about the first-leg result, we saw last night that there is no such thing as a result which cannot be overturned.

"Maybe I will make some considered changes, but I have a small squad at the moment and I will pick the best team I've got."

The cautious Petkovic is not thinking about the next round, Friday's draw, or the possibility of reaching the final.

"I am just focused on tomorrow's game," he told a press conference. "Then, once we get through, we will see.

"We want to get as far as we can, as we do in the league and in the Coppa Italia."

Petkovic is without defender Andre Dias, who is injured along with German striker Miroslav Klose.

Stuttgart made the trip without Alexandru Maxim, who broke his nose in the first leg a week ago.

There will be no spectators inside the Stadio Olimpico as Lazio play the first of two games behind closed doors following crowd disturbances in recent home European matches.

But Scotland manager Gordon Strachan could find some encouragement ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Wales next Friday by phoning Jordan and finding out how his QPR team kept the 23-year-old winger quiet amid his goalscoring spree.

Jordan always knew Bale had the ability and athleticism to become a star and, as Tottenham assistant manager, he saw the player grow and grow following his hat-trick against Inter Milan in October 2010.

But, with the former Scotland striker and Harry Redknapp now in west London rather than north, they masterminded a goalless draw with Spurs in January before QPR's recent revival and Bale's run of 11 goals in nine games.

Jordan, who arrived at White Hart Lane a year after Bale's ?5million move in 2007, said: "Spurs bought Gareth from Southampton for big money and there was a lad who had gone to London at 18 years of age.

"I'm not saying he found it difficult. There was competition there and he had the unfortunate tag of playing in I think it was 24 games and not playing in a winning team. That is not a good stat to have if you are picking a team.

"But he got that monkey off his back and it was not just the game he played against Inter Milan in the San Siro where he scores a hat-trick.

"But for anyone to do that, you would wake up the next morning and think 'I have got something to offer if I can score a hat-trick against the champions of Europe'.

"Gareth has gone from then and has belief now. If you have seen him in the last two or three months, he has taken a responsibility. I think he has matured.

"I don't think there is any difference in ability, there is more responsibility and he is more involved in the game now."

Jordan, who today joined Wales record goalscorer Ian Rush in Glasgow to promote ESPN's upcoming football coverage, added: "It's not just as a football player, as an athlete he is phenomenal.

"You see Gareth, as he has done unfortunately against Scotland as others, the goals he will score at the end of games.

"Because as quick and as powerful he is as an athlete, he has an aerobic thing that is second to none, he can go and go.

"If your tactic is to mark him, and you have got to do it for 90 minutes, you are in for one helluva hard night.

"And as we see now, with the responsibility he is taking on his shoulders, not only is he playing well but he is getting the goals."

Bale's late winner against Scotland in October came from 25 yards and after he had won the penalty that got the Welsh level.

But some of Jordan's inside knowledge might help Strachan out.

"We faced Gareth about four or five weeks ago with QPR and we got a draw and Gareth was very, very quiet," Jordan said.

"But Spurs are not a one-man band, you have players like Mousa Dembele, Aaron Lennon, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe.

"The reason they have done so well and are doing so well is because they have got match-winners.

"We had to look at it very carefully because we are at a QPR team that were and are bottom of the league and we couldn't play an open game because we would have got absolutely turned over.

"We nearly won the game, we got a good draw. I can't recall Gareth having a chance.

"We kept him very quiet and we know how Gareth is. We know what his strengths are, but it only takes one moment of indiscipline or lack of concentration and you have lost the game with people like that about."

That game came before QPR boosted their squad and closed the gap at the foot of the Barclays Premier League, and Jordan believes Scotland can be positive at Hampden in Strachan's competitive debut.

Jordan, who scored in three World Cups, said: "You do give respect to the opposition, especially with Gareth, and you don't want to get caught on the break.

"But I think you can get the balance right when you are playing at Hampden with that crowd behind you. A Scotland team can beat anybody at Hampden.

"But you have got to plan it very carefully. You can't play too open a game but you have that balance where you know you have players that when you are on the attack, they have the discipline and composure and are in a position where if it does break down, they are a safety not for not being exposed. We have mentioned Gareth and he can do that.

"You have got be secure at the back but you have got to take the game to them, because throughout my career and as a supporter, Scotland can beat the best at Hampden."

Dolan, formerly the head of the academy, was placed in temporary charge following the sacking of Brian McDermott on Monday, while assistant manager Nigel Gibbs also left the club.

Reading's 2-1 defeat by Aston Villa last Saturday was their fourth in a row in the Premier League and left them 19th in the table, with only goal difference keeping them above QPR.

Former Swindon boss Paolo Di Canio, Roberto Di Matteo and Nigel Adkins have all been linked with the job.

With only nine games left to save themselves, time is of the essence for Reading, but they are without a game for a fortnight after Saturday's clash with Manchester United because of international fixtures.

It would be a surprise if owner Anton Zingarevich did not have a new man in place by the time Reading meet Arsenal on March 30 and the Russian has been at the club's Hogwood Park training ground working with director of football Nick Hammond on the recruitment process.

Reading's players have been queuing up to praise McDermott, who had been part of the staff at Reading since 2000.

Captain Jobi McAnuff wrote a tribute to the former manager on the club website and revealed he spoke to McDermott on the phone after his sacking on Monday.

The winger said: "Obviously it was a difficult conversation but he handled himself with great dignity. He wished us all the best for the season, which is a mark of the man.

"He didn't talk about himself or what had happened, he just had the players' and the club's best interests at heart."

Zingarevich addressed the squad on Tuesday and McAnuff stressed the players "fully respect his decision".

McAnuff continued: "Eamonn and I also spoke at length and I would like to wish him the best of luck and emphasise that he has the full support of the players as we concentrate on Saturday's game.

"He is very well known by the boys and has obviously worked wonders in our Academy with so many players coming through to do well, not just here but at lots of other clubs as well.

"All of the young lads speak very highly of him and preparing for Manchester United will not faze him in any way, shape or form. He has been an integral part of the club's success over the past number of years and we will all pull together for him.

"One thing we pride ourselves on here at Reading is unity and Eamonn will no doubt focus on that moving forward together. We have nine games to go and, with our supporters alongside us, we will give it a real shot, starting on Saturday."

The Shrimpers were beaten 3-1 at Roots Hall by AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night, leaving the club six points off the play-off spots with nine games left.

And stand-in skipper Clohessy - who had given his side the lead from the penalty spot against the Dons - believes another home defeat at the weekend against struggling Torquay would end their hopes of making the top seven.

"If we don't win on Saturday then we won't make the play-offs," the defender said. "We need seven wins from nine games to get back in there and we can't afford to lose against Torquay.

"We need to start picking up more points at home too because if we had done better at Roots Hall this season I think we'd be cruising at the top of the league.

"I don't know why we don't do better at home but a few ideas are being bandied around the dressing room. It's a bit of a worry if I'm honest but we weren't good enough against Wimbledon and that was our fault.

"It wasn't down to the gaffer or (assistant) Graham Coughlan, it was down to the players because we just weren't at the races."

Victory over Tottenham at the weekend made it three successive Premier League wins for the first time since May 2011.

The result moved them to within two points of Arsenal, in fifth, and seven adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, although both clubs have a match in hand.

With games to come against Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham and Reading - all in the bottom nine - a good run could put Brendan Rodgers' side in an even stronger position by the time former Reds boss Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield with Chelsea on April 21.

"We said it was always going to be tough but we set ourselves the little task of trying to win as many games as we could in the last 10 and that's three in a row now so we've got a chance," said Downing.

"We've got some winnable games but that's easier said than done. We have to go and win them but from the way we are playing I think we can beat anyone.

"The teams in and around that top half are playing each other so obviously some are going to slip up and drop points and the thing for us is to take each game as it comes and see where we finish."

There is a clear feeling there has been progress made under Rodgers, particularly since January and the form guide backs that up.

After his first 14 matches in charge (up to the end of November) Liverpool had just 16 points and were 12th in the table.

In the subsequent 15 they have collected 29, bettered only by Manchester United and Spurs - and have moved up to sixth.

Downing expects that to continue throughout the remainder of this campaign and, with new recruits arriving in the summer, into the next.

"I think getting everyone back fit, getting our strongest players out there, has helped with everyone in their proper positions," he added.

"I think everything is coming together. There were signs earlier in the season but it was always going to take time to click - now you are seeing some good signs.

"There was going to be a learning process this season, building for the future.

"If we can keep this squad together, add a few more and keep the big players, I think we have a hell of a chance."

A significant contribution has been made by Luis Suarez, who is the league's leading scorer with 21 and who has scored 12 in as many games since December 22.

"If you get players like him who are liable to get a goal out of anything you are always likely to win the game," said Downing.

"That is why he has been talked about as player of the year because every week he is there performing, getting a goal and that is what we need.

"It's not only his goals but he brings other people into play, he is a nightmare to play against with his twisting and turning and he proved that against Tottenham."

Downing himself has enjoyed a rejuvenation in his Liverpool career since the turn of the year - leading captain Steven Gerrard to describe him as a "different player".

The England international, who has scored in his last two matches, said it had helped him playing in a side full of confidence.

"It is certainly a shift playing in my position, getting up and down and trying to nick a goal," said the 28-year-old winger.

"But when the team as a whole plays so well it inspires everyone.

"We look a threat on the attack and we are looking a good team and hopefully we can finish as high as possible with nine games to go."

Injured defender Martin Kelly is hopeful he can make a return from knee surgery before the end of the season.

The 22-year-old has been sidelined since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in September but with Jamie Carragher due to retire at the end of the season Kelly has his sights set on the veteran defender's final farewell appearance at Anfield.

"It's a big incentive to be part of that day, whether it's playing or not," he told

"I'm at the point now where I've been getting to do little ball drills and stuff without the ball - it's really promising for me at the moment and the medical staff are doing really well with my rehab.

"I'm getting stronger and stronger each day. We've had no setbacks so it's looking really promising."

Rodgers believes Downing's improvement in form warrants an international recall.

The winger has not featured for Roy Hodgson's side since last May's friendly against Norway despite being included in the squad for Euro 2012.

"I've been delighted with Stewart, he has come into the team and made the position his own. He has been absolutely outstanding," the Reds boss told Liverpool's official website.

"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.

"If he continues this form I'm very hopeful he'll play himself back into the England team."