London: Liverpool kept up its relentless march to a finish in the Premier League's European places, with Maxi Rodriguez scoring a hat trick Monday to help rout Fulham 5-2 at Craven Cottage.
Rodriguez made it seven goals in his last three league matches by scoring twice in the first six minutes, his first coming after just 32 seconds. The Argentina midfielder added the team's fourth with a stunning long-range shot in the 70th.
Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt had already put the Reds 3-0 ahead in the 16th with his fifth goal in successive games and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez completed the rout in the 75th, capping a sensational individual performance that ran Fulham's defense ragged and helping the Reds go two points clear of Tottenham in fifth place. Spurs have a game in hand.
"It was a fantastic result for us," said Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. "To score five goals was beyond our wildest dreams."
Dalglish's side moved to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City but only have two matches left, making it unlikely that the Reds can qualify for the Champions League. This was their sixth win in their last nine matches, however, continuing a remarkable turnaround under Dalglish since he replaced Roy Hodgson as manager in January for a second stint in charge.
"We can only benefit from other results if we do the business ourselves," Dalglish said. "But no one would've anticipated the run we have been on since January."
Moussa Dembele and Steve Sidwell scored second-half consolation goals for Fulham but they were outclassed by the visitors, who responded in fine style 24 hours after fierce rival Manchester United moved to the brink surpassing them to clinch a record 19th English title.
An irresistible opening passage saw Liverpool tear the hosts apart, scoring three times and threatening many more.
"We didn't see that coming. The performance in the first half was unacceptable," said Fulham manager Mark Hughes, whose team had won its previous two games 3-0 to move into the top half of the table.
Suarez, playing on his own up front in the continued absence of the injured Andy Carroll, didn't get on the scoresheet in that period but it was his trickery and nonstop running which created massive gaps in Fulham's defense that his teammates exploited to the full.
"He was fantastic," Dalglish said of his transfer-window signing from Ajax in January. "He has graced the pitch every time he played on it."
Suarez was the instigator of the first goal, collecting a pass from Brazil midfielder Lucas Leiva, cutting into the box but seeing his cross deflected off Carlos Salcido. Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer bizarrely attempted to kick the ball away instead of picking it up and Rodriguez pounced on the rash clearance by smashing home a finish low into the net from 15 yards (meters).
Glen Johnson crossed for Rodriguez to volley in left-footed at the far post for his second and Fulham's glaring defensive deficiencies were shown up again when Kuyt scored his ninth in the last eight games and 13th of the campaign. He was given an unforgivable amount of time and space at the edge of the area to collect a Johnson pass, turn and send in a low shot that Schwarzer parried feebly into his own net at the near post.
The introduction at halftime of substitute Bobby Zamora gave Fulham more presence in attack and the England striker set up Dembele for the Belgium striker's goal in the 57th.
Rodriguez snuffed out any chance of a comeback, easing away from the leaden-footed Hangeland and smashing a stunning effort from 25 yards into the top corner for his 10th of the season.
Suarez got the goal his selfless performance deserved when he ran onto substitute Jonjo Shelvey's through-ball to round Schwarzer and tap in before Sidwell fired in a half-volley in the 86th to complete the scoring.
Jamie Carragher capped a successful night for Liverpool by making his 666th club appearance, taking the ex-England center back above Ray Clemence and Emlyn Hughes into second place on the all-time list.
"He is an iconic Liverpool player," Dalglish said.