Stewart Downing has revealed that he has secured a place in manager Brendan Rodgers’ long-term Anfield plans.
The winger’s Liverpool future seemed bleak earlier in the season as he struggled to hold down a regular place and, when he did play, was often out of position at left-back.
Rodgers publicly questioned Downing’s attitude in September and the player faced the prospect of a drop down to the Championship when Middlesbrough - his first club - made an offer to sign him on loan in November.
Downing was told he could leave in the January transfer window if the right offer came in, but that sparked a revival in form that has propelled him back into the first-team picture.
The England international is expected to play a key role when Liverpool visit Reading in the Premier League on Saturday, having recovered from a bout of sickness that forced him off after 25 minutes of last weekend’s 0-0 draw at home to West Ham.
And he is determined to keep his place in the face of competition from January signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
“All I need to do is look at the bench to remind myself that I have to keep performing well,” he told the Liverpool Daily Post.
“There is real competition for places, especially since Daniel and Coutinho arrived in January. You have lads like Raheem Sterling waiting for a chance too. It means if you’re not playing well you’ll be hauled off.
“I’m sure the manager will also be looking to add to the squad in the summer. He’s told me I’m part of his long-term plans, which was great to hear.
<“Now I have to ensure that continues to be the case.”
Downing’s big breakthrough came in a 4-0 win over Fulham at Anfield on December 22, when he provided his first Premier League assist for the club and then scored his first top-flight goal.
The 28-year-old had gone 44 league games without a goal or an assist after joining from Aston Villa in summer of 2011 - a statistic that did little to justify his £20 million transfer fee.
However, his upturn in form has since seen him add two further league goals, and he feels he is now starting to show Liverpool supporters what he is capable of.
He added: “I’m glad it’s clicked now and I have the chance to continue playing for a big club.
“I’ve always believed I could do well here. I’ve done that over the last few months, and want to continue doing so for the remainder of this season and the years to come.
“Brendan challenged me to get goals and I’ve chipped in with a few. In the league I struggled in that area last season. I think that was the case for the whole team.
“They have been coming of late - I even scored a header at Wigan. It’s nice to get different types of goals. I think the manager doesn’t look too closely at stats - he’s told me all that matters is playing well.”