RENDAN RODGERS hailed matchwinner Stewart Downing as Liverpool FC dragged their Europa League campaign back on track – but was handed a derby injury scare by Glen Johnson.
Downing scored the only goal eight minutes after the interval as a strong Anfield outfit secured a hard-earned 1-0 home win over Anzhi Makhachkala last night.
Rodgers picked a starting line-up that included the likes of Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, despite the Merseyside derby following less than 72 hours later.
There was concern the decision had backfired when Johnson failed to appear for the second half, only for Rodgers to allay fears by revealing the defender had suffered a muscle spasm.
Downing, who began on the left flank, moved to left-back to deputise for the departed Johnson shortly before his goal, and was ushered by Rodgers at full-time towards the Kop to take applause from the home supporters for his strike.
“It's been difficult for him since he has been here,” added the Liverpool manager. “It was just something to help his confidence.
“The Kop recognise it was a wonderful goal at that end. If you get that applause it means a lot. Hopefully that will do him well going forward. He has the qualities to play in that position.”
With Young Boys surprising Udinese 3-1 in Group A’s other game, Liverpool now stand two points clear at the top of the standings at the halfway point.
And Rodgers said: “It was pleasing. Anzhi have a terrific group of players and have a top manager so to keep a clean sheet and win was excellent.
“I thought we deserved it. Our intent was good and in the second half we stepped it up.”