No assists? It's not my fault Liverpool strikers miss their chances, says Stewart Downing

 

If we're talking disgruntled England internationals left at home, imagine how Manchester City's Adam Johnson must feel. The player who has taken the squad position he coveted has just completed a season with neither a goal nor an assist for his club side.

Managers like taking a punt on Liverpool's Stewart Downing, though. He has not always shone with England and admitted a few years ago that the international scene was a "chore", given the boos he received in Israel and Andorra as the 2008 European Championship qualification campaign faltered.

Yet he was the only outfield player to take some part in all nine England matches during 2011 and the inherent bashfulness which is part of his make-up obscures the fact that he is now one of the old guard, who played three games at the 2006 World Cup, though he missed South Africa through injury.

Roy Hodgson will like the defensive reassurance that the 27-year-old's work-rate will provide alongside Ashley Cole but it will be a measure of the manager's current austerity England if Downing and James Milner occupy the flanks against France in Donetsk on Monday. They have 60 caps between them and not a goal to their name.

To those who put Downing's problems down to a lack of mental strength – and there are plenty on Merseyside who do – it should be said that he offered a robust defence yesterday of his season without one score or assist.

"The assist thing? I've constantly set up chances, as I did at Aston Villa and Middlesbrough and have done at Liverpool, season in and season out," Downing said. "I can't be criticised for not creating. I'm in the team to do that and I've done that throughout the season. I've just been unlucky that we've not finished the chances.

"Stats have taken over the game: he doesn't score this, he hasn't set up that... You can read into it as you like. If you look at what I did at Aston Villa, those chances got put away. Last season I was on a par with that, but at Liverpool they didn't [get put away]. It seemed to take us four or five chances to score a goal."

The failure to score was the part he held up his hand to, though. "The goal thing is [embarrassing], the fact that I didn't get enough goals." For Hodgson, Downing's early combination in Oslo with Andy Carroll – whom the manager seems tempted to use against France – will also have registered. For Joe Hart, Downing is the squad's great conundrum. "It's surprised me how he's not scored," the keeper said. "I watched goalkeepers go to Anfield week in, week out and have the games of their lives."

Downing in figures

36 League games without a goal or assist this season.

£20m Amount paid by Liverpool to Aston Villa for Downing last summer.

185 Minutes per assist for England, the best in the Euro 2012 squad.

49 Downing has played 49 minutes of tournament football for England - all in 2006.

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