Steven Gerrard struck a superb hat-trick to keep alive Liverpool’s faint Champions League qualification hopes as they brushed aside Everton in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
The captain crowd a thrilling first 45 minutes by chipping in the opener, before precision made way for ruthless power, as Gerrard batterd in a second five minutes after the interval, before sweeping home a third in stoppage time.
David Moyes, celebrating 10 years as Everton manager, saw his side rarely threaten as their seven-match unbeaten league run came to an end, with their own European hopes likely to rest on their progress in the FA Cup.
Taking his Everton side across Stanley Park searching for their first win at their bitter rivals for 13 years, Moyes knew that three points would take his side above Liverpool in the Premier League.
The hosts were meanwhile aiming to breath life into their Champions League qualification challenge, having taken just five points from a possible 24 domestically in 2012.
Liverpool’s attack minded line-up, which included both Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll up front, was in stark contrast to the strategy employed by their near neighbours, as Nikica Jelavic and Tim Cahill dropped to the bench among six changes from the win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Kenny Dalglish’s bold selection appeared to pay dividends from the off, as Gerrard forced Howard into a decent save, before Jack Rodwell’s intervention prevented Jordan Henderson from capitalising on the loose ball.
Steven Pienaar lofted Everton’s first real effort over the bar, while at the other end Carroll’s flicked header released Suarez whose smashed shot was beaten away by Howard.
Carroll was providing a decent outlet in the air, but it was Liverpool’s smart passing game, which saw them draw first blood after 34 minutes.
Suarez neatly exchanged passes with Henderson before sliding through Martin Kelly who was twice denied by Howard, only for the ball to drop to Gerrard on the edge of the penalty area, with the England international expertly clipping the ball over the Toffees defence into an empty net.
The skipper’s delightful finish provided The Reds with a lead they thoroughly deserved, but it was almost cancelled out immediately when Denis Stracqualursi was allowed the freedom of the penalty area to meet Leighton Baines’ cross, but Pepe Reina clutched at the Argentine’s snap header.
But in contrast to Liverpool’s toils at home, which had been dominated with missed opportunities they showed a merciless streak early in the second half to all but secure the points.
Again Suarez proved to be the thorn in the visitors’ side, weaving in and out of Sylvain Distin and inadvertently finding Gerrrad, who lashed in the second.
Even with 40 minutes still to play, Everton were engaged in damage limitation as the home side threatened to run ragged in front of the Kop as Carroll fired wide and Kelly almost poked in a third.
Keen not to lie down, Jack Rodwell almost cut the deficit only for Jose Enrique to hook his effort clear, prior to a triple substitution by Moyes as Royston Drenthe, Leon Osman and Saturday’s match winner Jelavic entered the fray with an hour played.
But the trio made little impact in the final reckoning, and Gerrard rounded off a perfect evenings work, stroking beyond Howard after exchanging passes with Suarez, with Dalglish’s side now 10 points adrift of Arsenal in the race for the top four.