Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat-trick as Liverpool kept their European qualification hopes alive with a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Birmingham City at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
The Argentinian put the Reds into a seventh-minute lead, capitalising on Ben Foster's fumble from Jay Spearing's drive to tap in.
Dirk Kuyt then continued his fine goalscoring run with Liverpool's second soon after, netting at the second attempt after his initial effort had been blocked.
Maxi furthered the home side's lead midway through the second period by steering Luis Suarez's cross into the goal at close quarters before wrapping up his treble with a composed finish.
Substitute Joe Cole completed the rout late on when his mazy run and shot deflected into the back of the net.
The result is the Reds' biggest home victory of 2010-11 so far and moves them to within three points of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, though the Londoners have a game in hand.
Liverpool went into the game aiming to end a seven-year itch against Birmingham having not mustered a league win over the second city side since May 2004.
However, following spirited displays against Manchester City and Arsenal, confidence was undoubtedly high amongst the Reds contingent as they attempted to maintain their push for European qualification.
Assured performances by Academy graduates had characterised those recent displays, with Jay Spearing, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson excelling in the absence of injured senior players to add to the feel-good factor currently reverberating around Anfield.
The trio retained their places in the starting XI against Alex McLeish's Carling Cup winners, with 17-year-old Robinson handed his first start for Liverpool at left-back - while furthermore, there was a place on the bench for U18s' captain Conor Coady.
While the Reds did have to make do without Andy Carroll, Jamie Carragher was passed fit after picking up a knock in the draw at the Emirates last week.
And an invigorating start to the afternoon by the hosts was rewarded inside seven minutes as Maxi marked his return to the line up with an early opener.
Spearing's thump from the edge of the box proved too hot to handle for Foster, allowing the Argentinian playmaker to pounce and steer the loose ball into the Kop end net.
That goal meant Liverpool have now netted in 16 consecutive Premier League games - the best run of any side in the division so far this season.
Birmingham's riposte was a spirited one and after Craig Gardner hooked an effort over the bar, Flanagan was forced to produce an excellent defensive header to prevent Liam Ridgewell reaching a dangerous centre.
But Liverpool doubled their lead on 23 minutes when Kuyt helped himself to a seventh goal in his last six Premier League appearances.
Raul Meireles's flick from Pepe Reina's long goalkick sent Luis Suarez scampering through on goal. The Uruguayan saw his bundled effort repelled by Foster, who sprang to his feet quickly to deny Kuyt's follow up.
However, he was rendered little more than a spectator as the Dutchman swept home at the third time of asking.
Confidence was now visibly flowing through Red veins and they carved open the Birmingham defence once more moments later when only a sliding block from Sebastian Larsson prevented Meireles from turning Maxi's low cross home from close range.
By now the hosts were well in charge and a goalmouth scramble saw a penalty appeal waved away after Lucas's shot appeared to strike the hand of Stephen Carr before Robinson blasted one into the Kop from distance.
Birmingham's afternoon went from bad to worse five minutes before the break when Foster was forced from the field having failed to sufficiently shake off a knock sustained while trying to prevent Liverpool's second goal.
Colin Doyle was his replacement - and the Irishman's first touch was almost to pick the ball out of the back of the net as Kuyt glanced Meireles's free-kick inches wide of the post.
In first-half stoppage time, Doyle was called into action, denying Suarez after the No.7 had shrugged off the challenge of Ridgewell, but failed to generate adequate power on his left-foot shot to find the net.
The opening exchanges of the second period continued in similar fashion, with Suarez clipping a free-kick over the bar from distance.
Birmingham began to threaten as the half progressed, but any hopes they may have harboured of a dramatic comeback were dashed when Maxi added his second of the afternoon on 66 minutes.
Suarez sprung Birmingham's offside trap to race onto Skrtel's long ball forward, and the striker's perfectly-measured cross to the back post was expertly converted via a side-foot volley by Maxi.
The diminutive winger sealed his hat-trick seven minutes later. His drive from the edge of the box was parried by Doyle, but with Kuyt lurking Martin Jiranek only succeeded in returning the ball to Maxi, who kept his cool to slot home.
With time ticking away, and the Kop chanting the name of Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier, who was taken into hospital earlier this week, Robinson's debut came to an end as made way for Jonjo Shelvey to a standing ovation.
It was another substitute who added Liverpool's fifth, when Cole beat Doyle at his near post via a slight deflection off Jiranek to put the seal on an afternoon to savour at Anfield.
Author: James Carroll at Anfield Tagged:birmingham