LONDON, March 7 – Dirk Kuyt hit a hat-trick as Liverpool dented Manchester United's title hopes with a 3-1 victory over their bitter rivals at Anfield on Sunday.
Kuyt struck twice in quick succession in the first half and the Dutch forward completed his treble after the break to hand United their second defeat in the space of a week after the leaders’ 2-1 loss at Chelsea on Tuesday.
Javier Hernandez reduced the deficit in stoppage time but United, who had only lost one league match this season before the start of this week, are now just three points ahead of second placed Arsenal, having played a game more than the Gunners.
Kuyt’s hat-trick was the first for a Liverpool player against United since Peter Beardsley’s treble in a 4-0 win back in September 1990 when Kenny Dalglish was first in charge of the Reds, but it was a sublime display from Luis Suarez that inspired the hosts.
"It’s perfect," Kuyt told Sky Sports 1. "You dream about the hat-trick and to do it against United is the best feeling ever.
"I’m more than happy but I have to thank Luis because he played great and created two of the goals.
"They were quite easy goals, I used to score them in Holland when I played more like a striker. They count and I’m more than happy to take them."
United were without first-choice centre-backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and it showed as Liverpool drew first blood in the 34th minute thanks to a superb piece of skill from Suarez.
The former Ajax forward’s surging run took him past three United defenders before he poked the ball through Edwin Van der Sar’s legs for Kuyt to tap-in from barely a yard out.
United were rocked by that piece of Suarez magic and Dalglish’s side increased their lead four minutes later when a misdirected header from Nani confused his defence and allowed Kuyt to head home from close range.
Tempers boiled over after that and Jamie Carragher was lucky to avoid a red card for a lunge on Nani that led the United winger to be stretchered off, while Rafael da Silva also sparked angry scenes with a nasty foul on Martin Skrtel.
Kuyt sealed Liverpool’s first win over United in four attempts with a simple finish after a fumble by Van der Sar from Suarez’s free-kick in the 65th minute.
There was still time for Dalglish to send on club record signing Andy Carroll for the England striker’s first appearance since his £35 million move from Newcastle before Hernandez headed in from a Ryan Giggs cross.
In Sunday’s other match, Wolves rescued a 3-3 draw from a thrilling clash against Tottenham at Molineux.
Mick McCarthy’s team took the lead in the 20th minute when Kevin Doyle found space to plant a glancing header past the out-of-position Heurelho Gomes.
Jermain Defoe lashed in a superb equaliser in the 30th minute as the Spurs striker curled home from the edge of the penalty area.
That was Defoe’s first league goal of the season and the England star produced another fine curling strike five minutes later to put Spurs ahead.
Spurs’ lead was short-lived and Doyle equalised with a 40th minute penalty after Alan Hutton pulled back Nenad Milijas.
Roman Pavlyuchenko fired Spurs ahead again with a deflected shot in the 48th minute.
Wolves felt they had snatched an equaliser in the 80th minute when Richard Stearman bundled home after challenging Gomes, but referee Mark Halsey disallowed the goal for a foul by the defender.
They had no need to rue that decision as Steven Fletcher climbed highest to level with a header from Matt Jarvis’s 87th minute cross.
The draw left Spurs behind fourth placed Chelsea on goal difference, while Wolves remain second bottom of the table.
McCarthy said: "There was nothing we could do about their first two goals, but their third is our own gross stupidity.
"Our reaction to that was terrific. With that spirit and commitment I still think we’ll stay up."
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp added: "It’s a blow. It looked like we’d got three points and I thought we deserved to win."