Players thrive on Liverpool pressure insists Stewart Downing
Winger Stewart Downing insists the players thrive on the pressure of expectation which comes with representing a club like Liverpool.
The England international is among a number of Kenny Dalglish's signings who have yet to find their best form, although the 27-year-old's performances have picked up in recent weeks.
That progress was highlighted with the winning goal in yesterday's FA Cup quarter-final win over Stoke which secured a second trip to Wembley less than a month after winning the Carling Cup.
It was only Downing's second goal - the other coming late on in the 5-0 FA Cup third round defeat of Oldham - since his £20million move from Aston Villa last July.
Results have been patchy in the Barclays Premier League and the likes of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll have all struggled to consistently find their best form.
Downing accepts the settling-in period may be taking longer than anticipated but believes that should not mask the good things which have been achieved this season.
"This is a bit of a transition time for the club. A lot of new players have come in and it's the manager's first full season but I think we have done ever so well," he said. "We have been criticised at times, that's part of playing for a big club.
"The expectations on you are to win and play well and the players here thrive on that pressure and it is starting to come together.
"Players are starting to perform on a regular basis and I think performance-wise we've done very well.
"There have been a lot of draws (in the league) but we have created a lot of chances and played good football, you can't knock us for that.
"We have won the Carling Cup and are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. I think it has been a good season and I'm sure the manager is pleased with how it's gone.
"We just have to keep building on it and then do better things next season."
Downing had a bright start to his Liverpool career before performance levels appeared to drop off midway through the season, but an impressive display in the Carling Cup final seems to have kickstarted him back into life.
The goal which knocked out Stoke, last year's runners-up, is one he has been threatening to score all season, cutting in from the right onto his favoured left foot and this time finding the right shot to beat Thomas Sorensen.
It proved decisive after former Reds striker Peter Crouch had cancelled out Luis Suarez's 23rd-minute strike.
"It was a special moment to get the winner," Downing added. "It was pleasing to get the goal but the most important thing was to get the win and get through.
"Stoke made it hard for us but we were the only team that looked like we wanted to win.
"They got a lot of men behind the ball and it was frustrating for us at times and you could see the crowd were getting a bit edgy, but in the end we got our reward."
Liverpool will face either Everton or Sunderland in the semi-final but Downing insists all he is bothered about is getting back to Wembley and hopefully picking up another trophy.
"I don't really have a preference who we play out of Everton or Sunderland. It will only be a good draw if we win," he said.
"If we keep performing the way we are and playing as well as we can, we can beat anyone on our day. We have proven that this season.
"We have got another occasion at Wembley for us to enjoy and we want to go there and win. I couldn't have imagined two trips to Wembley in my first season here."
Despite their exit, Stoke manager Tony Pulis feels the campaign has been a successful one so far.
"We have had a remarkable season and in lots of respects it has been ground-breaking stuff," he said. "The club have never before been in the quarter-final of the FA Cup three years on the bounce and we went into Europe and did very well.
"We've done really well but have just stumbled at the last hurdle and that has been a disappointment, but you have to give the players a lot of credit for what they have done so far."
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