STEWART DOWNING believes past controversy should not prevent “frightening” Liverpool FC team-mate Luis Suarez from being named Player of the Year.
Suarez further bolstered his claim for the top accolade by netting his second hat-trick of the season in the 4-0 win at struggling Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
It has taken the Uruguayan on to 28 goals in 38 appearances and moved him ahead of Manchester United striker Robin van Persie as the Premier League’s leading goalscorer.
Suarez – who has become the first Liverpool player to score 20 league goals in a season since Fernando Torres – is expected to fight it out with van Persie and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Gareth Bale for both the PFA Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year awards later this season.
And Downing, who scored Liverpool’s opening goal at the DW Stadium, is hopeful the decision will be made purely on football.
“It should only be judged on his performance on the field,” he said. “You can't fault him for that. Obviously he's had things which have happened in the past, but he's got on with his football and does his job at the end of the day.
“It should be judged on how he plays and for me, that's all it boils down to. Nothing else should matter and for me, I think he's got a hell of a chance.
“He scored all types of different goals for his hat-trick. At the minute he's on fire and if you have a striker like that in your team, you always have a chance of winning games.
“The goals he's scored is frightening, especially in this league. It's the hardest league to get goals in, but he's had two good seasons for goals.
"I'm sure he will get many more and there are still 10 games to go. You never know what he could get, 30 odd."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, though, believes it may be difficult for people to see beyond Suarez’s past indiscretions.
“I am not sure,” said the Northern Irishman. “Everyone understands his passion and he has got himself into trouble a couple of times.
“But I don't think there is anyone, when you come away and judge the player of the season on performance level and goals, then I can't see how you cannot look any further than him and I would hope other people will do that, certainly the professionals within the game.
“He is a class act and a genuine world class player.”
Downing netted within two minutes on Saturday when he nodded in a Philippe Coutinho cross from inside the six-yard box.
And asked when he last scored a header, the winger replied: “I don't know! Probably in my Aston Villa days I think.
“It was nice to get a goal no matter how they come. The manager said to me to try and score goals and if you get in the box, you have a chance.
“It was a great ball from Philippe and I was able to make a good contact on it to get it past the keeper.
“We played some good football. Obviously getting the early goal helped. It settled us down and on a tricky pitch, I thought we dominated for large periods of the game.”
Liverpool entertain Tottenham Hotspur in their next game on Sunday still seeking a first victory against a top-six team this season.
Rodgers’ men were beaten 2-1 at White Hart Lane in November, and Downing said: “They will know they are in for a tough game. We played them off the park down there. I know we lost, but if you look at the game, I don't know how we lost.
“They've got good offensive players and the way we're playing at the minute, we can get goals.
“I'm confident we can get a win. We'll keep chopping away at them. There's no point saying we want to finish fifth or sixth, we've just got to try and win our games and see what happens.”