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Downing calls on Reds to rally as momentum grinds to halt in the face of McCarthy heroics

Stewart Downing has promised that Liverpool will not give up on this season after they fell further behind rivals Everton.

Downing is well qualified to talk about persistence. The midfielder's desire was publicly questioned by Brendan Rodgers earlier in the season, but in the build-up to this match, Downing was told by the manager that he is part of his long-term plans, having become a regular pick – quite a turnaround for the £20m signing, who produced no goals or assists last season.

"We won't let the season peter out," he said. "The manager certainly won't let that happen. He has stressed that we keep going right to the end and see what happens."

Liverpool trail sixth-placed Everton by five points and fifth-placed Tottenham by eight points, and have played a game more than those teams. "There are going to be slip-ups along the way, but it's going to be tough for us, there's no hiding that. We have another big game coming up against Chelsea."

A failure to reach Europe – and finishing below David Moyes's men for a second season in a row – would be painful but might be off-set by long-term benefits.

Rodgers' squad is taking shape and next season, following a summer of recruitment, could be one in which a top-four place is a realistic target. Not having the distraction of the Europa League would help in that aim.

"This season was always going to be not a difficult one, but a transition one, with new ideas and players," Downing added. "Next season is a big test for us. He has most of the players he wants and we have to crack on."

Rodgers agreed: "The creativity is there. For us to get to the next level, we need to bring in a few extra bits of quality. We'll look at it in the summer."

The harsh reality for Liverpool is that any team good enough to challenge for the top four would not fail to score after 26 shots against the bottom-placed team. "Some of the chances we had, instead of making the 'keeper save them, we should have put them away," Downing admitted. "That's been our downfall."

Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy deserved praise though, giving a display that led Rodgers to talk him up as a potential England player. "The goalkeeper produced the best goalkeeping performance that probably anybody in this stadium has ever seen in their lives," the Liverpool manager said.

McCarthy's most eye-catching stops kept out Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, and a five-yard effort from his former England U-21 team-mate Daniel Sturridge. The Reading goalkeeper, who models his game on Petr Cech, said: "England are blessed with really good, young goalkeepers. Hopefully I'll get my chance soon enough."

His efforts meant new Reading manager Nigel Adkins broke the losing streak that developed under his predecessor Brian McDermott. Adkins sent a text to McDermott on Friday, congratulating him on getting the Leeds United job. "Well done to him," Adkins said. "It's good to see him back in football." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent