LONDON, England, May 10- Liverpool boosted their late challenge for a top four finish in the Premier League as Maxi Rodriguez's hat-trick fired the Reds to a 5-2 victory against Fulham on Monday.
Kenny Dalglish’s side romped into a three-goal lead within the first 16 minutes at Craven Cottage, with Rodriguez scoring twice before Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer allowed Dirk Kuyt’s weak shot to squirm into the net.
Moussa Dembele got one back for Fulham but Rodriguez struck again for his second hat-trick in three games and Luis Suarez bagged the fifth goal to complete the demolition.
Steve Sidwell’s late strike meant little to Fulham and Liverpool’s five-star display lifted them above Tottenham in fifth place and within four points of fourth placed Manchester City in the race for the final Champions League spot.
With only two matches left, Liverpool are more likely to have to settle for Europa League qualification, but a slip by City in their game in hand against Tottenham on Tuesday will have the Anfield faithful dreaming of a return to Europe’s elite club competition.
Whatever the outcome of their European charge, Dalglish has surely done enough to persuade Reds owner John W Henry to hand him the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
Liverpool’s record signing Andy Carroll was missing again after suffering an injury in training, but the Reds arrived in west London in fine form and took the lead in 31 seconds.
Manchester United may be about to take Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles, but even Sir Alex Ferguson’s team haven’t scored such a fast goal this season.
Suarez broke away down the left and the Uruguayan’s cross was miscued by Fulham defender Carlos Salcido towards Schwarzer.
Schwarzer could only scramble the ball away from Kuyt and into the path of Rodriguez, who fired home emphatically.
Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher couldn’t have wished for a more perfect start on his 666th appearance, an astonishing total that made him the club’s second highest appearance holder behind Ian Callaghan.
It got even better for Carragher when Argentine midfielder Rodriguez struck again five minutes later.
Lucas Leiva’s long pass picked out a surging run from Glen Johnson on the right wing and the England defender’s looping cross to the far post was met with a powerful volley from Rodriguez that flashed past Schwarzer.
Dalglish’s men were pouring forward in waves and they didn’t have to wait long for a third goal as Schwarzer blundered in the 16th minute.
Kuyt’s low shot from the right side of the penalty area should have posed no problems for Schwarzer, yet the Australian somehow allowed the tame effort to trickle through his legs and into the net.
Schwarzer hung his head in embarrassment as Dutch forward Kuyt celebrated his ninth goal in eight matches.
After Raul Meireles was forced off early in the second half, Fulham scored in the 57th minute when substitute Bobby Zamora slipped a pass for Dembele to shoot past Jose Reina.
But Liverpool had too much firepower for Fulham and Rodriguez sealed his treble in the 71st minute.
Taking John Flanagan’s pass 30 yards from goal, Rodriguez advanced unopposed before blasting an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
Liverpool hadn’t finished there. Suarez capped a fine display as he jinked round Schwarzer to slot in the fifth in the 75th minute and Sidwell’s superb 85th minute goal was no consolation for Fulham.