Dirk Kuyt’s hat-trick handed Liverpool a memorable 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Anfield to the leave the visitors’ title dreams hanging in the balance.
The remarkable result, just days after the Premier League leaders were beaten 2-1 at Chelsea, leaves Sir Alex Ferguson’s side only three points ahead of second-placed Arsenal and with a game more played.
To make matters worse, Manchester United lost key winger Nani to injury and were ripped apart by a Liverpool side inspired by Dutchman Kuyt and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, only scoring themselves through Javier Hernandez in the very last minute.
Suarez helped set up the first two goals for his team-mate after 34 and 39 minutes before Kuyt bundled home a third in the 65th minute after Steven Gerrard’s free-kick had been saved.
It was a classic match full of feisty passion as well as exciting football and moves Liverpool back into sixth place on the table.
In a rip-roaring start to the game, Liverpool created two chances in the first five minutes, first for Suarez who could not quite connect with a Meireles cross and then for Maxi Rodriguez, who should have done better after a flowing move.
And that set the tone for a pulsating afternoon at Anfield.
United had their moments, not least when Dimitar Berbatov’s clever shot from 20 yards beat Pepe Reina but struck the far post. But in most areas of play Liverpool had more energy and more invention.
Kuyt provided the first part of that equation with his non-stop running but Suarez was responsible for the second part, producing moments of exquisite skill.
He set up the opening goal with a twisting and mesmeric run deep inside the United area, eventually poking a shot past the prone Edwin van der Sar that Kuyt finished off right on the line.
United were stunned and Liverpool caught them again within five minutes, this time Suarez’s cross being bizarrely headed back into his own box by Nani – where Kuyt was lurking to head home from close range.
An already passionate match then caught fire as tempers boiled over before the break, leaving referee Phil Dowd shaking his head in disbelief.
First Jamie Carragher’s vicious tackle on Nani, crashing down on the winger’s shin, saw him booked before the Portuguese jumped temporarily to his feet to remonstrate.
Nani then fell to the floor as Gerrard pushed him away, leading to a furious melee as players rushed from all over the field to get involved.
Eventually Nani was carried off on a stretcher, to be replaced by Javier Hernandez, but the bad feeling continued when Fabio flung himself into a challenge that infuriated Martin Skrtel – leading to another skirmish and a booking for each player.
Fortunately for a beleaguered Dowd, the half-time whistle eased the tension but there was still plenty of action to come.
Meireles cleared off the line from Berbatov and then almost scored at the other end before Kuyt completed his hat-trick when van der Sar spilled Gerrard’s free-kick straight to him.
The arrival of 35-million-pound striker Andy Carroll after 74 minutes to make his Liverpool debut cheered the home crowd even further and although substitute Javier Hernandez headed a last-minute reply it was a convincing victory for the hosts.