Stewart Downing claims to be stronger after 'up and down' season

 

Stewart Downing is adamant he will be stronger because of the criticism he has endured during an "up and down" debut campaign for Liverpool.

Downing has been identified as one of the negatives from a tumultuous campaign for the Merseyside giants.

The 27-year-old left Aston Villa for £20million last summer, yet failed to contribute either an assist or a goal to Liverpool's Premier League campaign, which ended with them finishing eighth.

Evidently, owner John Henry was unimpressed and promptly dispensed with manager Kenny Dalglish's services, bringing in Brendan Rodgers as the Scot's replacement.

Yet Downing has remained a regular member of the England squad and has been tipped to start their Euro 2012 opener against France in Donetsk on Monday as Wayne Rooney serves the first match of his two-game ban.

"Criticism makes you stronger," said the winger.

"You are always going to get criticised at a big club like Liverpool but it is a great club to play for.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my first season and I am sure we will be better next year."

As Liverpool's troubles continued, so the mirth at Dalglish's repeated insistence his side was doing nothing wrong grew louder.

Yet Downing is adamant there was some truth in his old boss's assertions, even if the eventual outcome tells a different story.

"A lot has been said about Liverpool and the fact we didn't perform but we battered teams at Anfield at times," he said.

"I can think of one or two bad performances. Most of the time we were very unlucky.

"We just didn't have that killer instinct. The manager said there wasn't much you could say and that was probably right.

"But a lot of new players signed, we played in two cup finals and came away with a medal so there were a lot of positives to come out of it as well."

It does seem strange that, thanks to the late call-ups for Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly, there are now six Liverpool players in the squad, more than any other team.

Four have a realistic chance of starting too, with Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson virtual certainties, whilst Downing and Andy Carroll are in the reckoning as well.

Jermain Defoe's departure following the death of his father should not affect Roy Hodgson's team selection too much as the Tottenham man was set to be used as an impact player against the French.

It is not yet known whether Defoe will return in time to be involved.

Of more immediate importance is confirmation, through goalkeeper Joe Hart, that John Terry came through a closed-doors training session, England's first since they landed in Poland yesterday evening.

"He was fine - flying round like he does," said the goalkeeper. "He doesn't seem to be holding back."

Terry's importance to Hodgson can hardly be understated given the grief that has had to be endured since his selection.

And, even though Gary Cahill's absence with a fractured jaw means Terry will have to swap from his favoured left-sided station to accommodate Joleon Lescott, Hart feels the transition will be a smooth one.

"It worked on Saturday straightaway," said Hart, of the defensive partnership that needed to be put into place following Cahill's exit during the opening stages of Saturday's win over Belgium.

"Obviously, JT prefers to play that left-hand side.

"But I'm pretty sure he's played on that right-hand side before and done brilliantly."

Hodgson has already conceded England cannot be viewed as favourites against a France team currently on a 21-match unbeaten run.

Yet Downing does not believe the Three Lions should be intimidated by such statistics.

"We don't fear them," he said. "France are a good team but so are we.

"We know their strengths and weaknesses. They are good going forward and have some great individual players.

"It will be a tough game but it is a great opening match for us to play and we are confident we can get a result against them."

PA

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