By Joel Richards

BRENDAN RODGERS believes Stewart Downing’s match winner against Anzhi Makhachkala was just reward for a good night’s work.

The winger, who has recently been overlooked by the Liverpool manager, hit a superb strike which gained a valuable three points for the Reds leaving them top of Group A in the Europa League at the half-way stage.

Speaking at his after-match press conference, Rodgers also explained his gesture towards the midfielder saying: “It’s been difficult for him. It was just really something to help his confidence. It was a wonderful strike by Stewart. It was a great goal to win the game.

“I think the Kop recognised it was a good goal at their end and if you can get applause from them then that would mean a lot to anyone; player manager or coach. That will hopefully do him well going forward.”

Rodgers felt his side deserved all three points against the Russian Premier League leaders who rarely troubled the Reds throughout the 90 minutes. He said: “Anzhi have got a terrific group of players there.

“They have invested heavily in their side and have a top manager. So to get a win and keep another clean sheet was excellent. I thought we deserved it, our intent in the game was good, and we wanted to get forward. In the second half we stepped it up and did very well.”

The Northern Irishman explained his decision to name a near-full strength side with the Merseyside Derby looming insisting that he always picks a team to win the game.

He added: “For us we’re just taking it a game at a time. Our squad is not overly big. But it was the case of we were at home and the condition of the players is very good so I had no concerns about that. The work rate in training and in games has been fantastic so now we’ll recover well and look forward to Sunday.”

Despite the visitors’ poor performance, Rodgers reserved praise for Anzhi captain Samuel Eto’o who endured a quiet night at Anfield. He said: “(Samuel Eto’o) is a player I have admired for many years and is a top world class striker and a number of other players. So we knew it would be a tough game for us.

“There’s been a massive investment in Anzhi as a team and as a club, both in terms of their playing staff and management structure so I anticipated they would come with a strong group.”